After a $2 billion federal investment, the U.S. public health system is only marginally better prepared to handle a bioterrorism attack or other health emergency than it was in 2001, says the Trust for America’s Health.
USA Today says a report from the non-profit concludes that plans 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 government money.
The study said only two states, Florida and Illinois, have shown that they could 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. “We are not ready,” said Shelley Hearne, Trust director.
The report said progress has been made to upgrade state health laboratories, develop bioterrorism plans, and increase communication between state and local health officials. Even a massive influx of federal money can’t make up for what “two decades of underinvestment” in public health, Hearne said.
Jerome Hauer, until recently the head of public health preparedness for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said public health departments have been “decimated.” “Significant gains have been made” since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said. But “we still have a lot more work to do.”
In an effort to prevent bioterrorism, Congress has required food importers to register with the Food and Drug Administration before showing up at the border with produce, meat or other food. The requirement, which some companies warn will cause delays at the border, takes effect today.