Which public health laboratories are in need of a shakeup?
Oklahoma public health lab’s lead scientist and former deputy director of the CDC says the public health agency needs to do a better job of identifying and treating the conditions that are causing outbreaks.
Dr. David J. Zaidman, who was hired to lead the state’s public health laboratory in March, says the agency needs “to get a little more focused on identifying what’s going on in the community” and “be a little bit more patient.”
In a report to lawmakers in February, he called for a “major overhaul” of the state laboratory.
In an interview with NPR, Zaidmans chief of staff, Tom Miller, said the lab was performing “badly” and that he was concerned about a lack of funding.
“I don’t think that the public is going to get it,” Miller said.
Zadman also said that there was a need for more transparency, saying, “You want to have a little better understanding of what the research is doing, why it’s being done and who’s doing it.”
He also said there were “many, many cases that the labs are not even looking into.”
Public health labs have been under intense scrutiny in recent years.
Since the CDC’s first Ebola outbreak in West Africa, state labs have struggled to track and contain outbreaks.
In November, the Oklahoma Department of Health said that in the first two weeks of March, the state lab had only received 1.3 cases of Ebola.
Oklahoma also has had to address the question of who is testing the public for the virus and how they are doing it.
In a letter sent to the state legislature in March and released in early March, state officials said they had no way to know how many cases the state had seen.
The letter was sent in response to the release of the lab’s preliminary findings, which found that the state is dealing with a “substantial number” of cases.
Miller told NPR that the lab is “in an excellent position to deal with this,” but said he was frustrated with the state for not being more transparent.
“There’s a lot of misinformation that goes around, that people are getting caught up in,” Miller told the radio station.
Miller also pointed out that the agency has not conducted a thorough study of the outbreak, saying “we haven’t done that.”
Oklahoma has also struggled with how it is handling the virus.
In the letter, Miller said the state was not able to track who was contracting the virus in the state and that there is no way of determining who is a carrier of the virus or who was the “primary source.”
Miller also said he did not think the state should have been allowed to use federal funding to help pay for a new testing facility in Oklahoma.
The new facility is slated to open in mid-May.
Miller said he would like to see more testing done on public health workers who are infected with the virus, but he said the situation was not yet “truly catastrophic” enough to require such a move.