Michael Gerson and Raj Shah are senior fellows with Results for America. Gerson, a Post columnist, served as assistant to President George W. Bush for policy and planning and is a senior adviser at the anti-poverty group One. Shah served as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development under President Obama.
In the aftermath of the 2014 Ebola crisis, public-health officials, disease experts and politicians said that 11,000 painful, frightening deaths had not been in vain. Images of children dying in their mothers’ arms in Africa and the fear of Ebola transmission here at home should have been a wake-up call to the world.
At least four systematic reviews of the Ebola crisis were conducted (including one by a high-level U.N. panel on which one of us, Raj, served). All these studies called for greater global rapid-response capabilities; clearer lines of authority ending in a single, accountable leader; flexible resources, including a trained workforce that can be called quickly into aggressive action and deployed to whichever countries needed help; and a rapid-response organization capable of reacting to circumstances on the ground.
Now, the response to Zika is revealing many of the same weaknesses, allowing the virus to gain a dangerous momentum that could bring unnecessary tragedy to thousands of families and justified fear to America’s shores.
The world is not mounting a sufficient operational response to Zika in the South and Central American countries that are at risk. Brazil, Colombia and other nations are not applying the scale of resources required to rapidly reduce transmission. Within a year, Puerto Rico could have hundreds of cases of microcephaly, leading to disastrous consequences for its already troubled and tourist-driven economy.