Are you feeling unaffected by the recent government shutdown? You may not notice it now, but the shutdown could impact your health. It may surprise you to find out that while Congress is deadlocked, several agencies and services that are in place to protect the health of U.S. citizens are not operating at full capacity as they have been deemed "nonessential."
Due to the government shutdown, the Department of Health and Human Services has sent home 52 percent of employees who work in the various activities within in the department. These activities include services that affect public health, food safety, disease prevention, medical research, and global health.
As we approach flu season, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was forced to furlough 68 percent of their employees. Amongst other services, this has halted its disease-monitoring systems. This means the agency won't be able to effectively identify and thwart any new outbreaks. Thankfully, flu vaccines are in good supply and the government shutdown doesn't prevent Americans from getting flu shot or washing their hands.
Equally terrifying is the fact that the Food and Drug Administration has also been stymied by the current shutdown. With 45 percent of their staff on temporary layoff, food safety is in danger. According to the Department of Health and Human Service's memo on staffing during the shutdown, "FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities. FDA will also have to cease safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs (e.g., food contact substances, infant formula), and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making."
Medical research is also taking a hit. The National Institute of Health (NIH), the world’s largest source of medical-research funding, will "not be accepting new patients or initiating new clinical protocols during a hiatus."
The NIH Clinical Center, the Bethesda, Md. hospital will be forced to turn away approximately 200 new patients a week, according to an Al Jeezera America interview with Renate Myles, the NIH's news media branch chief. In the HHS staffing memo, it was noted that "the continued provision of care to existing patients (both inpatients and outpatients) means the hospital would be operating at roughly 90% of normal patient load during the initial weeks of a funding hiatus."
Shutting down the majority of clinical trials at NIH restricts people currently seeking treatment and those who may be diagnosed in the future--as potential treatments and cures are not being tested.