NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM UNPREPARED

December 15, 2004

The nation's public health system remains woefully unprepared to respond to a crisis, despite repeated government warnings about the possibility of bioterrorism or another health emergency such as a flu pandemic, a new report shows.

The federal government has spent $3 billion to improve public health preparedness since 2001, but little progress has been made toward tracking disease outbreaks, preparing for mass distribution of antidotes and equipping labs to identify and test for deadly pathogens, the non-profit Trust for America's Health found in its second annual report on public health preparedness released Tuesday.

The report detailed weaknesses nationwide. Among them:

  • Only six states are fully capable of distributing life-saving vaccines and antidotes from a federal stockpile in an emergency: Florida, Illinois and Louisiana are among them; three other states have chosen not to make their status public.
  • Twenty states still don't have a public response plan to deal with a flu pandemic -- scientific models show that in the United States, a major flu outbreak could result in 89,000 to 207,000 deaths and cost the economy up to $166.5 billion; health officials warn that such an outbreak could happen at any time.
  • Only five public health labs have the equipment and space necessary to handle a chemical terrorism threat.
  • Two-thirds of states don't electronically track disease outbreak information according to national standards; without such tracking, delays in reporting make crucial early warnings and treatment impossible.

Despite the influx of money after 9/11, the report says it's not enough. Federal bioterrorism funding decreased by more than $1 million per state in 2004, and nearly a third of the states cut their public health budgets between fiscal years 2003 and 2004, the report said.

Source: Mimi Hall, "Group: USA not ready for bioterror; 'Baby steps' taken since 9/11 leave big shortfalls," USA Today, December 15, 2004; based upon: "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's Health in the Age of Bioterrorism," Trust for America's Health, December 14, 2004.

 

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