Alarm bells sounded over U.S. bioterror response capabilities

A recent analysis by two nonpartisan private research groups asserts that significant gaps exist in the U.S. capability to respond to a bioterrorist attack and protect the nation from its aftermath.

The 2001 anthrax attacks triggered an unprecedented attempt to improve the nation’s preparedness, but the 92 page analysis, written by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, claims that much work has been left undone, according to the Washington Post.

“Currently, there is an additional new threat to preparedness — the current economic climate and budget cuts at the federal, state and local level mean that the progress made over the past decade could be lost,” the report concludes, the Washington Post reports. “Until public health emergency preparedness receives sufficient and sustained funding, Americans will continue to be needlessly at risk for a range of public health threats.”

A total of 33 states have had to cut public health funding in the last year, with 18 of them cutting funding for the second year in a row. Local public health departments have been forced to cut 29,000 jobs, which represents approximately 19 percent of their workforce. The federal government has cut preparedness funding by 37 percent.

According to the report, the United States has 50,000 fewer workers in its healthcare force than it did 20 years ago, and one-third of current healthcare workers will be eligible for retirement within the next five years.

The United States also lacks the capability to handle the massive influx of patients that would occur in the event of a terrorist attack using biological agents. Furthermore, there is no integrated, national approach to monitoring disease outbreaks, severely limiting the nation’s response ability.