Budget Cuts Endanger Biodefense Preparedness, Report Says

An analysis issued yesterday said the continuing U.S. economic crisis remains a danger to states' efforts to ready themselves for acts of bioterrorism or other health crises, the Center for Disease Research and Policy reported (see GSN, Dec. 16, 2009).

The Trust for America's Health issued its annual report on state public health operations, "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's Health from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism."

The organization found that funding for public health operations was lower in 2009-10 than the previous year in 33 states and the District of Columbia. It was the second consecutive year of budget reductions in 18 states, and 53 percent of local health agencies said in January their main financial support was down from the previous year.

Federal financing for public health readiness has dropped by 27 percent since fiscal 2005, accounting for inflation, the group said.

"The combined cuts constitute an emergency for emergency health preparedness in the United States," Jeffrey Levi, Trust for America's Health executive director, told reporters.

While key gains have been made in public health since the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001, funding is not sufficient to "backfill long-standing gaps in the public health infrastructure or update technologies to meet modern, state-of-the-art standards," according to the report.

Budget issues have forced 7 percent of local health agencies to reduce their crisis readiness capacities, while 9 percent have lowered their "core capacity to detect and analyze threats," said Robert Pestronk, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

The news was not all bad, CIDRAP reported.

The Trust rated states' preparedness based on 10 factors, including funding levels, surge capacity at disease laboratories, health information systems, and ability to identify and document a food-carried disease.

"Overall, states have the highest scores ever for emergency preparedness," Levi stated.

Three states -- Arkansas, North Dakota and Washington -- met all 10 criteria, while 11 met nine, 18 met eight, the District of Columbia and seven states met seven, nine met six and two states -- Iowa and Montana -- had the lowest score of five.

Among findings of note were that seven states had no capacity for electronic sharing of information to health care personnel and 10 states did not possess electronic systems for monitoring outbreaks. However, all but four states had laboratory personnel ready to work five, 12-hour days for between six and eight weeks, and just one state saw its laboratory chemical-danger response capability drop from August 2009 to August of this year.

The document "is not a comprehensive analysis, nor is it exhaustive, but it's a snapshot of key issues," said James Blumenstock, chief program officer for public health practice at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

"I wouldn't want any readers to draw the conclusion that they're at increased risk because they live in a state that didn't get a perfect score," he stated. "These are just 10 of what could be hundreds of indicators, given the depth and breadth of overall preparedness. If a state didn't get a point for an indicator or category ... it doesn’t mean they're totally void of that capability or capacity. And this is an evolving and enduring process" (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy release, Dec. 14).

December 15, 2010
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An analysis issued yesterday said the continuing U.S. economic crisis remains a danger to states' efforts to ready themselves for acts of bioterrorism or other health crises, the Center for Disease Research and Policy reported (see GSN, Dec. 16, 2009).