Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism, the newly released report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), finds key programs that detect and respond to bioterrorism, new disease outbreaks and natural or accidental disasters are at risk due to federal and state budget cuts. Trust For Americas Health Report

The report, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), identifies some key programs at risk due to continued cuts to federal public health emergency preparedness funds include:

  • 51 of the 72 cities in the Cities Readiness Initiative are at risk for elimination; the Initiative supports the ability to rapidly distribute and administer vaccines and medications during emergencies.
  • All 10 state labs with “Level 1” chemical testing status are at risk for losing top level capabilities, which could leave the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with the only public health lab in the country with full ability to test for chemical terrorism and accidents.
  • 24 states are at risk for losing the support of Career Epidemiology Field Officers – CDC experts who supplement state and local gaps to rapidly prevent and respond to outbreaks and disasters, such as during the H1N1 flu pandemic and responding to the health impact of the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010.
  • The ability for CDC to mount a comprehensive response to nuclear, radiologic and chemical threats as well as natural disasters is at risk due to potential cuts to the National Center for Environmental Health. All 50 states and Washington, D.C. would lose the support CDC provides during these emergencies.

To be honest with you, public health is one of those things that the “joe public” or for that matter the politicos just don’t think about…Why? It has been too long since we have had a true public health emergency (remember polio, TB?) when we really understood the value of this key and valuable community and national resource. The bad news is that when you really need it, it needs to be there, standing strong, practiced and competent.

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"We're seeing a decade's worth of progress (since 9/11) eroding in front of our eyes," said Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of TFAH. "Preparedness had been on an upward trajectory, but now some of the most elementary capabilities - including the ability to identify and contain outbreaks, provide vaccines and medications during emergencies, and treat people during mass traumas - are experiencing cuts in every state across the country."

Combined federal, state and local budget cuts mean public health departments can no longer sustain a number of basic elements of preparedness. In the past year, 40 states and Washington, D.C. cut state public health funds – with 29 of those states and D.C. cutting their budgets for a second year in a row and 15 states for three years in a row. Federal funds for state and local preparedness declined by 38 percent from fiscal year (FY) 2005 to 2012 (adjusted for inflation) – and additional cuts are expected under budget sequestration.

The report includes a series of recommendations that will be important for improving America’s preparedness, including:

  • Assuring dedicated funding and strengthening the public health preparedness core capabilities;
  • Improving biosurveillance to rapidly detect and track outbreaks or attacks;
  • Improving research, development and manufacturing of vaccines and medications;
  • Enhancing the ability to provide care for a mass influx of patients during emergencies;
  • Providing better support to help communities cope with and recover from disasters; and
  • Coordinating food safety with other preparedness efforts through the strategic implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011.

It is a good read…albeit a bit depressing around the edges…to discover what we have lost or are about ready to lose.