More than just bad luck may have caused a Spanish nurse to contract Ebola from an infected patient earlier this week. In recent years, Madrid’s Carlos III hospital has been plagued by budget cuts and under-staffing brought on by European austerity, according to local press.
“It’s not the hospital it used to be,” Amelia Batanero, a spokesperson for the Independent Health Workers Union, told English-language news site The Local in early August. Thanks to cuts, the hospital has reportedly had entire floors shuttered for the past couple of years.
Spanish health authorities have determined that “substandard equipment and a failure to follow protocol” were to blame for the breach of quarantine, according to The Guardian.
While countries across the European Union have spent the past few years implementing austerity cuts, Spain has had to impose harsher cuts than most. In exchange for stimulus from the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund, the Spanish government has had to make steep cuts to public employment and the social safety net.
The country’s publicly funded health service was just one of the major programs to get put on the chopping block. Last year, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warned that the cuts could seriously erode Spain’s quality of medical coverage and “put lives at risk.”
Although the United States has not experienced anything close to Europe’s orchestrated program of austerity, its emergency response infrastructure has also been affected by cuts. Over the past four years, the Center for Disease Control — the principal agency in charge of coordinating America’s response to the Ebola threat — has been subject to nearly $600 million in budget cuts. Last week, National Institutes of Health official Anthony Fauci testified at a joint Senate hearing on how sequestration and other recent budget cuts have affected the government’s ability to respond to the threat of Ebola.
“It has, both in an acute and a chronic, insidious way eroded our ability to respond in the way that I and my colleagues would like to see us be able to respond to these emerging threats,” he said. “And in my institute particularly, that’s responsible for responding on the dime to an emerging infectious disease threat, this is particularly damaging.”