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Issues remain in national disaster preparedness

Wednesday December 19, 2012
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Despite significant progress in public health preparedness over the past 10 years, persistent gaps remain in the countryís ability to respond to health emergencies ranging from bioterrorist threats to serious disease outbreaks to extreme weather events, according to an annual report.

The report, issued by the Trust for Americaís Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, gave the lowest scores to Kansas and Montana (3 out of 10) and the highest to Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Vermont and Wisconsin (8 out of 10).

"In the past decade, there have been a series of significant health emergencies, including extreme weather events, a flu pandemic and foodborne outbreaks," Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH, said in a news release. "But for some reason, as a country, we havenít learned that we need to bolster and maintain a consistent level of health emergency preparedness. Investments made after Sept. 11, the anthrax events and Hurricane Katrina led to dramatic improvements, but now budget cuts and complacency are the biggest threats we face."

The report, "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism," explores cuts in public health funding and problems in such areas as pertussis vaccination, climate change adoption plans (which include planning for extreme weather events), evacuation plans for licensed child care facilities and public health laboratoriesí capacity to deal with infectious disease outbreaks.

Among the recommendations in the report, which address many gaps in emergency health preparedness:

• Reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (note: the U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to pass the bill, sending it to the Senate for its approval);

• Assure sufficient, dedicated funds for public health preparedness to ensure basic capabilities to respond to threats public health departments face every day, and also to have the trained experts and systems in place to act quickly in the face of major, unexpected emergencies;

• Provide ongoing support to help communities better cope and recover from emergencies;

• Modernize biosurveillance to a real-time, interoperable system to better detect and respond to problems;

• Seriously address antibiotic resistance;

• Improve research, development and manufacturing of medical countermeasures;

• Increase readiness for extreme weather events;

• Update the nationís food safety system.

A PDF of the report, which includes safety scores for all states, is available at www.healthyamericans.org/assets/files/TFAH2012ReadyorNot08.pdf.


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