Health :: CDC Plane Results In Lives Saved

The airplane leased by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during public health emergencies saves lives – at a cost of one cent to each American each year. The plane plays a critical role in CDC’s ability to keep our nation safe and prepared.

To save lives during public health emergencies speed is critical. CDC simply can not exclusively rely on commercial couriers and passenger airlines to transport specimens, supplies, and specialized health experts on a moment’s notice. The current arrangement, competitively bid by the agency, permits CDC to go anywhere in the world within two hours of notification 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Are the expenses worth it? Ask the loved ones of the person in Puerto Rico who recently received a life saving antidote after being exposed to a radionuclide. Ask the family of a patient with inhalational anthrax who needed an experimental treatment during the course of their illness. Ask the patient in California who was being considered for new rabies treatment. Not to mention the recent outbreak in Panama where dozens of people had died before CDC was called into action. CDC used the plane to rapidly transport materials and in less than three hours of landing with specimens CDC identified the killer as a toxin in cough syrup. Rapid responses do save lives.

What happens when CDC does not have access to such aircraft? Commercial carriers have misplaced products, kept inflexible schedules, and refused packages. During SARS a deathly ill American child with suspected SARS in Vietnam suffered for several days because no plane would take him to Taiwan for treatment. In addition, CDC’s identification of the cause of SARS was delayed by many days when specimens sat on the ground in Bangkok because no airline would fly them to the United States. Also, a CDC employee hospitalized with suspected SARS in Taiwan could not get home for evaluation and care.

We wish we never had to respond to such emergencies as suspected smallpox or rabies cases or unknown illnesses killing dozens at a time; but public health threats that require fast CDC action do occur across our nation and around the world and Americans expect us to be there to help. We have learned the hard way that to guarantee immediate transport of people, specimens, and antidotes that save lives we must lease and control our own aircraft. This investment is a vital link in our nation’s emergency preparedness and Americans deserve no less.

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