Better training, funding, uniformity in care could improve U.S. response to biological outbreaks

Gostin is the director of the O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law; Director, World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law & Human Rights, | Courtesy of Lawrence O. Gostin

Ebola demonstrated just how unprepared the United States was to respond to a biological outbreak, according to Lawrence O. Gostin, professor of Global Health Law at Georgetown University, director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and the director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights.

There are things that will help improve the country’s response though.

From budget cuts to the Centers for Disease Control not being able to guide local action in regard to outbreaks, there are several reasons that the U.S. was and is not prepared for an outbreak of that nature.

“There have been major cuts by the federal and state governments that have adversely affected the functioning of state and local health departments. As a result they have lost tens of thousands of critical personnel,” Gostin said in an interview with BioPrepWatch.

Fragmentation and variation in the country’s health system is also an issue for preparedness. The country may have some of the top hospitals and health agencies in the world, but variability and lack of training and equipment cause concerns.

“We do have some of the most advanced hospitals and health agencies in the world. We saw this with centers of excellence where hospitals handled Ebola very well. And major health departments such as NYC and Los Angeles are among the world’s best,” Gostin said. “But we also have high variability and lack of adequate training and equipment in many hospitals. If a ... highly dangerous infection landed in a hospital that wasn’t well prepared, it could have catastrophic consequences. Finally, we lack surge capacity for scarce and essential medical supplies such as ventilators and essential medicines, such as antibiotics.”

Better training, consistency in care and funding for healthcare and the CDC are several areas where federal and state governments and health care agencies could improve the situation, but Gostin also believes that the $6.2 billion emergency supplemental funding request to Congress will help to improve the situation.

Gostin has worked with the CDC, the WHO and state health departments on Ebola preparedness projects.