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Funding Cuts Seen Endangering Biothreat Response Network

Budget reductions could undermine a program designed in part to facilitate coordination between U.S. laboratories responding to an act of bioterrorism, an organization of medical research facilities said on Tuesday (see GSN, Sept. 6).

The Laboratory Response Network went live in August 1999, with the aim of ensuring "an effective laboratory response to bioterrorism by helping to improve the nation's public health laboratory infrastructure, which had limited ability to respond to bioterrorism," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The network analyzed in excess of 125,000 samples for the presence of anthrax after the deadly bacteria was sent through the mail in 2001, the Association of Public Health Laboratories stated in a commentary reported by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (see GSN, May 10, 2005; Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy release, Oct. 4). The network's 51 facilities carried out slightly less than 3,500 checks for WMD substances over a 12-month period starting in August 2009, according to the APHL press release.

The United States has reduced funding for the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement -- the top provider of the laboratory network's financing -- to $632 million, down from $1 billion following the anthrax mailings. A bill to renew the 2006 Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act would retain that funding level for five years, and budget reductions might affect other programs that provide monetary support for laboratory readiness, according to the APHL statement (see GSN, July 29).

"The whole infrastructure is being eroded," Eric Blank, the organization's public health systems director, said in released remarks. "I'm really worried about the next pandemic or the next emergency situation" (Association of Public Health Laboratories release/Marketwire, Oct. 4).

NTI Analysis