Bioterror security at risk
December 20th, 2011
11:21 AM ET

Bioterror security at risk

By Mike M. Ahlers

Recent and proposed budget cuts at all levels of government are threatening to reverse the significant post-9/11 improvements in the nation's ability to respond to natural diseases and bioterror attacks, according to a report released Tuesday.

"We're seeing a decade's worth of progress eroding in front of our eyes," said Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health, which published the report with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Budget cuts already have forced state and local health departments to cut thousands of health officials, the report says.  Cuts are jeopardizing the jobs of federal investigators who help states hunt down diseases, threatening the capabilities at all 10 "Level 1" state labs that conduct tests for nerve agents or chemical agents such as mustard gas, and may hurt the ability of many cities to rapidly distribute vaccines during emergencies, it says.

The "upward trajectory" of preparedness, fueled by more than $7 billion in federal grants to cities and states in the past 10 years, is leveling off, and the gains of the last decade are "at risk," the report says.

The 2011 report departs slightly in tone from the nine previous reports prepared by the two health advocacy groups.  Earlier reports, while focusing on gaps in the nation's preparedness for pandemics and bioterror attacks, showed a "steady progression of improvement," said Levi.

"Our concern this year is that because of the economic crisis... we may not be as prepared today as we were a couple of years ago," he said.

Once lost, medical capabilities take time and money to rebuild, the report says.

"It would be like trying to hire and train firefighters in the middle of a fire," Levi said. "You don't do that for fire protection, and we shouldn't be doing that for public health protection."

There are few expressions of assurance or optimism in the 2011 report.

The report says:

- In the past year, 40 states and the District of Columbia have cut funds to public health.

- Since 2008, state health agencies have lost 14,910 people through layoffs or attrition; local health departments have lost 34,400.

- Federal PHEP grants - Public Health Emergency Preparedness grants - were cut 27 percent between fiscal 2005 and 2011, when adjusted for inflation.

- Some 51 cities are at risk for elimination of Cities Readiness Initiative funds, which support the rapid distribution of vaccinations and medications during emergencies.

"Two steps forward, three steps back," said Dr. F. Douglas Scutchfield of the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, in an essay accompanying the study.  "As certain as the sun will rise in the east, we will experience another event that will demonstrate our inability to cope, as the resources for public health are scarce, and it will prompt the cycle of build-up, neglect, event, build-up, etc."

Federal aid to state and local governments for health preparedness peeked in 2002 at about $1.7 billion, and fell to $1.3 billion in fiscal 2012, Levi said.  But the impact of cuts were masked when Congress allocated more than $8 billion in emergency funds to fight the H1N1 flu in 2009, Levi said.  "Now that money is gone. And so we're seeing the real impact of these cuts," he said.

The TFAH report comes just two months after another report concluded that the United States is largely unprepared for a large-scale bioterror attack or deadly disease outbreak.

The WMD Terrorism Research Center, gave the country mostly B's and C's for its ability to handle small-scale events, such as the anthrax letter attack of 2001, and failing grades for its ability to handle large-scale events, like the global epidemic depicted in the movie "Contagion." It gave the country a "D" for its ability to develop and quickly approve medical countermeasures, such as diagnostic tools and vaccines, during outbreaks of all sizes.

Report authors said they recognize that budget constraints prevent governments from addressing all of the shortcomings in bioterror preparedness. But they recommend focusing on preparing for large-scale outbreaks, saying those preparations would automatically improve preparedness for smaller outbreaks.

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. In home personal training

    Money needs to be spent in other places i guess. This line caught my eye "The "upward trajectory" of preparedness, fueled by more than $7 billion in federal grants to cities and states in the past 10 years, is leveling off, and the gains of the last decade are "at risk. I don't
    know what the answer is but we better figure it out.

    April 21, 2014 at 10:20 pm | Reply
  2. NYC Fitness Event

    This line is why i read the article. We need to find money ASAP "Budget cuts already have forced state and local health departments
    to cut thousands of health officials, the report says. Cuts are jeopardizing the jobs of federal investigators who help states hunt
    down diseases, threatening the capabilities at all 10 "Level 1" state labs that conduct tests for nerve agents or chemical agents
    such as mustard gas, and may hurt the ability of many cities to rapidly distribute vaccines during emergencies"

    January 31, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Reply
  3. Adam @ Las Vegas Computer Repair

    Oh no, we are trying to cut back from our overspending !

    March 31, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Reply
  4. Fire Alarm

    Thank you for this informative post. I found it really interesting and will look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:15 am | Reply
  5. Fire Alarm Systems

    Thank you for posting this. I found it really informative and interesting. I will be looking forward to reading more from you in the futre.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:24 am | Reply
  6. michaelfury

    http://michaelfury.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/this-is-next/

    December 21, 2011 at 7:34 am | Reply
  7. Rosco1776

    Gee, I guess we shouldn't have spent all that money overseas huh? We just keep bombing and rebuilding other countries while ours falls apart! I feel so safe, thanks big government!

    December 21, 2011 at 5:27 am | Reply
  8. Lucifer

    Even I, the devil, am surprised that this "post 9-11" propaganda still flies with the American people? Obama you forgot to pray to me before (not) telling everyone about your "hell on earth" in the form of the NDAA.

    December 20, 2011 at 11:51 am | Reply

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