NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

United States Not Ready for Health Emergency

December 12, 2003

Despite a $2 billion federal investment, the nation's public health system is only marginally better prepared today to handle a bioterrorism attack or other health emergency than it was in 2001, a new report shows.

The study by the non-profit Trust for America's Health found that efforts to prepare for health emergencies have been hampered by state budget deficits, a shortage of medical workers, red tape and disagreements between state and local officials over who should get the money. According to the report:

  • Only two states, Florida and Illinois, have shown that they could receive and distribute shipments from a national stockpile of vaccines, antidotes and other medical supplies that can be sent within 12 hours of an attack or outbreak.
  • Progress has been made to upgrade state health laboratories, develop bioterrorism plans and increase communication between state and local health officials.
  • Two-thirds of the states have cut spending on public health so severely that the impact of the federal funds to help states has been diluted.
  • There's a shortage of public health workers; that's one reason states are not ready to handle potential shipments from the national stockpile -- many states had planned to use National Guard troops now fighting the war against Iraq.
  • Only one in four states has a plan to deal with a pandemic flu outbreak; many infectious diseases can be ''a lot more deadly than something someone can do intentionally,'' said Georges Benjamin, head of the American Public Health Association.

Source: Mimi Hall, "Report: $2B hasn't stopped gaps in bioterror readiness," USA Today, December 12, 2003; based on Report, "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's Health in the Age of Bioterrorism," Trust for America's Health, December 12, 2003.


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