Preparing for Health Emergencies: Prevention is More Cost Effective than Response

Some of the nation’s top health security experts delivered a blunt message to lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week: It costs a lot less to adequately fund prevention and preparedness programs up front than it does to respond when a disease outbreak turns into a crisis.

“Investing in preparedness before an emergency reduces the cost of response,” Paul Petersen, director of the Emergency Preparedness Program at the State of Tennessee Department of Health, said, noting that state and local public health departments are uniquely positioned to respond first in the event of a crisis.

Peterson was joined at the congressional seminar by experts from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, other local public health officials, and NTI’s senior director for global biological policy and programs, Dr. Elizabeth (Beth) Cameron. The event was sponsored by Hopkins and the non-profit, non-partisan Trust for America’s Health.

Crystal Watson, a senior associate at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the administration’s proposed health security funding levels for fiscal year 2018 represent a 9% overall reduction, including a 2% reduction for radiological and nuclear security.

Local officials talked about what such reductions would mean for their communities. “The challenges we have around West Nile Virus and Zika have really been on our radar,” said Umair Shah, executive director of the Harris County, Texas Public Health Department. He noted that a reduction in resources does not lead to a reduction in the department’s responsibility to respond to health security threats.

Beyond the United States, “every country in the world needs to have a basic level of preparedness,” said NTI’s Cameron. “Epidemics, whether intentional, accidental or naturally occurring can cost thousands to millions of lives and billions of dollars. Prevention saves lives and averts political and economic insecurity."

The majority of the discussion addressed naturally occurring (though still serious and deadly) outbreaks and epidemics, but Cameron reminded the group that “the next epidemic could be caused by a bio-terrorist attack.”

The Nuclear Threat Initiative is working to help prevent terrorists from acquiring material for weapons of mass destruction and disruption, including bioweapons.

Learn more about our work on this issue, and other biosecurity topics here.

June 30, 2017
Meaghan Webster
Meaghan Webster

Communications Manager

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