BioterrorismBudget cuts hamper U.S. response to biological attack

Published 22 December 2011

A recently released report charges that state and federal budget cuts have weakened U.S. bioterrorism response capabilities

A recently released report charges that state and federal budget cuts have weakened U.S. bioterrorism response capabilities.

According to the report, released by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, federal funding for state and local preparedness programs have fallen 38 percent from fiscal year 2005 to 2012. Meanwhile forty states as well as Washington, D.C. have also slashed their state public health budgets.

Given all these budget cuts, the report concluded that the future of U.S. preparedness for biological attacks appears bleak.

More than 49,000 state and local public health jobs have been cut since 2008 and 60 percent of state health agencies have been forced to cut entire programs.

In particular all fifty states have made cuts to the Hospital Preparedness Program last year, which is designed to prepare hospitals for public health emergencies.

More troublingly, all ten state laboratories capable of testing the most dangerous biological and chemical substances like mustard gas, anthrax, and nerve gas are in danger of elimination. Without these labs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Defense would be the only two agencies capable of testing for these deadly weapons.

We’re seeing a decade’s worth of progress eroding in front of our eyes,” lamented Jeff Levi, the executive director of the Trust for America’s Health,

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,” Levi said.

Public health officials are not optimistic about the future as federal budget cuts are expected to continue next year. In the proposed budget for 2012, lawmakers have proposed cutting funding for hospital preparedness, vaccine development, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Furthermore, with the “super committee” unable to reach an agreement, the automatic $1.2 trillion cuts over the next ten years will undoubtedly affect public health programs.

To help boost biological response capabilities, the report recommends creating a dedicated fund for public health preparedness, improving the ability of medical facilities to handle a sudden mass influx of patients, and bolstering biosurveillance capabilities.

The old adage is that it’s better to be safe than sorry,” James Marks, the director of the Health Group of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Unfortunately, if we ignore preparedness now, we’ll be sorry later when the next emergency strikes.”