Budget cuts hampering U.S. biothreat response

Budget cuts on the federal, state and local level have threatened U.S. efforts to prepare an effective response to an attack using biological weapons.

Jeff Levi, the executive director of Trust for America’s Health, recently spoke to U.S. lawmakers at a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs hearing entitled, “Ten Years After 9/11 and the Anthrax Attacks: Protecting against Biological Threats,” and gave a blunt assessment, according to HSToday.us.

"We could face the sad irony that if another anthrax attack were to occur today, we may be better prepared than ten years ago – but possibly not as well as three years ago," Levi said, HSToday.us reports.

In a similar vein, the nonprofit WMD Terrorism Research Center recently said that the United States continues to develop and sustain an adequate response to the threat of a large-scale biological attack or outbreak of a major contagious disease.

The center acknowledged that the United States maintains an adequate capability to respond to small-scale contagious or non-contagious outbreaks, but once they increase in size, efforts would be mostly inadequate. In the case of a large-scale drug-resistant contagion outbreak, the center said that the U.S. response would fail completely.

“A decade ago, public health was on the frontlines of our battle for national security,” Levi said, according to HSToday.us. “Uncertainty remains about how the health system would respond to a catastrophic health event: how we would allocate limited life-saving resources, the liability, legalities and ethics of providing care and delivering medical countermeasures to large numbers of people.

“Training of our public health workforce must be ongoing; vaccines and antivirals in the Strategic National Stockpile are expiring or have been used; technology is quickly becoming outdated; and health departments need predictable funding to operate laboratories, respond to emergencies and investigate outbreaks, And yet, federal support for public health preparedness has been cut by 37 percent, adjusting for inflation, since fiscal year 2005.”