Expert warns of weakness in U.S. bioterror response

An economist and public health expert recently reported that recent disasters have revealed weaknesses in the way U.S. public agencies would handle a bioterror-related emergency.

Jeanne Ringel, the director of the Public Health Systems Initiative and a senior economist at RAND Health, cited the major progress made in the nation’s preparedness efforts since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, but remains concerned about deficiencies that became apparent after the H1N1 epidemic and Hurricane Katrina, according to

Ringel asserts that September 11 and the 2001 anthrax attacks provided an impetus towards unprecedented changes in the way that the United States plans to handle national emergencies. Increasing fears about national security led to agreements between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources Administration, states, territories and several large cities.

State and local public health systems received billions in funding increases annually to improve preparedness efforts, while health officials finally joined first responders in operating rescue missions, reports.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health also benefited from the funding boom. It received money to study defensive countermeasures and develop other needed vaccines. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security developed sensors to detect and assess dangerous particles.

Despite all of these advances, Ringel said that recent crises have revealed problems in the manner in which public agencies respond to emergencies.

While the H1N1 epidemic proved that the United States could rapidly develop vaccines to combat disease, it lacked the means to quickly distribute them,and relies on an outdated, egg-based means of production.

Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that slow decision making and confusion over the areas of responsibility among government agencies could cripple response efforts. The surge of injured people truly challenged health care providers in the area.

Ringel said that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill showed that public health agencies needed to become directly involved early in an emergency in order to support any recovery process, according to

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