Bioterror security at risk

December 20, 2011
by Mike 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.


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