PROVO — President Trump and other populist world leaders are dismantling funding that protects the world from future epidemics as they put national interests ahead of global health, a Pulitzer Prize-winning expert said Tuesday at Brigham Young University.
Isolationist movements are challenging globalization and defunding global development programs, threatening to undermine massive gains made over the past 17 years in life expectancy, child mortality and the eradication of deadly diseases, said Laurie Garrett, an global health and infectious diseases expert who served as a technical adviser for the film "Contagion" and spent 13 years as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"Can you stop diseases and outbreaks with isolationism?" Garrett said. "You can't wall off the microbes, you can't shut them down, though everybody always tries.
Garrett spoke at a campus forum assembly address at BYU's Marriott Center. The lecture drew an audience of 1,845, according to the official campus estimate.
Global health funding increased fourfold the past 17 years, fueling health gains around the world, she said. However, 60 percent of annual global health spending now comes from the Gates Foundation and from Washington and London, where it is threatened by nationalist, isolationist movements.
"We're now in a very challenging time politically," Garrett said. "The world is retreating from globalization. All over the world, the cross-border movement of resources and funds is going downhill. We're building up financial walls, physical walls. We are seeing every single aspect of globalized economy under assault."
She said Trump's "America First" budget proposal calls for the United States "essentially to pull out of the game almost entirely." It calls for the elimination of 100 percent of funding from about a dozen global health and development programs.
The timing is precarious. The world has seen dangerous outbreaks in the past 17 years, including several in the past three years.
An Ebola outbreak in 2014 infected 28,000 people and killed 11,000 as the global community dragged its heels to intervene, she said. Since then, the world has experienced cholera, yellow fever and Zika virus outbreaks.
"All outbreaks of the 21st century are supranational issues," Garrett said, meaning they can't be handled in isolation. For example, the New Zealand government determined earlier this year that if it shut the country off from the world during a global pandemic, the nation would be safe for only one month before the microbe would manage to reach its islands anyway.
Garrett served as a script supervisor for "Contagion," a 2011 action/thriller about the outbreak of a deadly virus. The movie made $135 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. At the time, Garrett wrote a piece for CNN that said the movie should serve as a wake-up call not only about germs but about the frailty of governance.
In 2014, Garrett drafted a report on the Ebola outbreak for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff that became the backbone for the first American military response to a civilian epidemic in U.S. history. She won her Pulitzer Prize for reporting for Newday on a 1995 Ebola epidemic in Zaire. She is the only writer to win a Pulizer, a Peabody (in 1977 for science reporting at a California radio station) and a Polk Award.
On Tuesday, Garrett provided an alarming, broad review of global health issues in a fast-paced, multimedia presentation complete with a deep dive into data and implications.
"We need smart national and global governance in epidemics, or you get hoarding of medical supplies," she said. "You get planes shut down. You have get mass exoduses. You have military responses directed against the people affected. And you have fearmongering, especially in the United States."
Garrett described a number of problems that transcend national concerns, what she called supranational issues.
One is worldwide vaccine shortages for cholera, yellow fever, meningitis and pertussis. among others. The Centers for Disease Control announced this summer that the U.S. stockpile of yellow fever vaccine has run out. It can't be replaced until the end of 2018 or 2019.
She derided several Trump tweets about infectious diseases.
"'Vaccines give you autism,' says the Great Real Estate Broker," she said. "Obviously a scientist."
Other supranational issues include global warming, antimicrobial resistance and deforestation.
Antimicrobial resistance is on pace to eclipse cancer as a cause of death by 2050, she said. The Trump administration has removed the Obama national plan for antimicrobial resistance from all websites, Garrett said, adding, "We currently have no plan in the United States government."
Deforestation contributed to the Ebola outbreak. Tree stumps in West Africa were found at ground zero. Bats that usually live in the treetops bit children who poked at them in the tree stumps.
"Instead of thinking America First," Garrett said, "we need to be thinking Planet First, the World First."
Garrett asked BYU students to begin to think of ideas that could transcend nationalism and create a new globalization.
"What we need now, and what I need your generation to come up with, is a kind of Globalization 2.0, a globalization that takes these supranational issues and tries to address them vigorously as a global community," she said, "not as nation-states, not as Washington, not as Bill Gates, but all of us engaged in the struggle, in the fight to transform the planet in a positive direction."
She said the need is dire.
"We're going to take what is impossible and we're going to take isolationism and punch them right out. We reject both and come to a sense of 'anything is possible' with the proper innovation and the proper mobilization. If we can't go there, if we can't get to Globalization 2.0, then I'm afraid we're going to face a very, very grim future, for not just your grandchildren, but for you."
Hayley Worsham, 23, of Lindon, Utah, attended the forum. She is a senior majoring in public health who had been looking forward to Garrett's presentation all semester and called it fantastic.
"Public health is a broad, interdisciplinary field, so I appreciated how the overarching theme of globalization brought everything together."
Rosemary Thackeray, associate chair of BYU's department of health sciences, met with Garrett during her visit.
"As public health professionals we must collaborate across disciplines both within United States around the globe," Thackeray said. "We must invest in policies that promote and protect health for all people, develop and implement programs that work and ensure adequate funding to scale those programs."