Several former directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took to Politico this week to remind beltway insiders that the work CDC does is “a matter of life and death,” arguing for the need to strengthen rather than cut public health funding. The article comes as leaders in Washington wrangle over how to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” which would likely impact spending at all federal agencies. “Whether investigating hantavirus in Yosemite National Park, supporting emergency responses to hurricanes and floods, responding to Ebola outbreaks in Uganda or fighting the chronic illnesses that plague Americans, CDC is on the front lines,” write the former officials, who served under the Carter, Reagan, Clinton and both Bush administrations. “As former CDC directors, we know what that job requires, even though we served under different administrations and under different circumstances. The current fungal meningitis outbreak affecting people in at least 19 states provides a case in point.” The meningitis outbreak, tied to a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts, has so far sickened 510 people and at least 36 lives have been lost. The directors argue that “many more could have died without CDC’s surveillance, rapid response science and communications with health experts responsible for diagnosing and treating patients.” “Despite this strong performance, one aspect of CDC’s response worries us,” the op-ed continues. “To meet these urgent demands, CDC had to pull in more than 300 staff as well as countless other state and local personnel.” The article points out that the meningitis outbreak is just one of many that requires significant CDC resources to tackle. “Multiple food-borne outbreaks, emergence of new strains of swine flu in the Midwest and cases of plague in Western states require CDC’s full attention. Add to that global health concerns such as a SARS-like virus tracked to the Middle East and ongoing avian influenza in Asia, both just a plane ride away from the United States. Events like these underscore the critical nature — and potential vulnerability — of CDC and the public health network it leads to protect our nation.” The former officials urge leaders in Washington to “invest in CDC and strengthen its capacity…to protect our citizens, our businesses and our economy.” “[W]e know that we cannot afford to shortchange our frontline protection against these emerging and ongoing domestic and global health threats. And yet, the projected budget cuts throughout the government threaten to do just that — significantly curtail CDC’s ability to detect and rapidly respond to health crises wherever they occur.” “The role of government in a number of areas can be debated, but we believe there is consensus on the vital governmental role in preventing disease and working to mitigate the damage in situations such as the meningitis outbreak.” The op-ed was credited to CDC Directors William H. Foege (1977-83); Julie Gerberding (2002-08); Jeffrey P. Koplan (1998-2002), James O. Mason (1983-89); William L. Roper (1990-93); and David Satcher (1993-98).