Government cuts threaten bioterror response abilities

According to a report released on Tuesday, recent and proposed government budget cuts are threatening to reverse the significant improvements that were made in the nation's ability to respond to bioterror attacks after Sept. 11, 2001.
The report, published by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said that budget cuts have forced local and state health departments to cut thousands of health officials. According to the report, the cuts are jeopardizing the jobs of federal investigators who hunt down diseases, may hurt the ability of cities to quickly distribute vaccines during emergencies and is threatening the capabilities of all 10 "Level 1" state labs that test for chemical or nerve agents, CNN reports.
"We're seeing a decade's worth of progress eroding in front of our eyes," Jeff Levi, the executive director of the Trust for America's Health, said, according to CNN.
According to the report, the upward trajectory of preparedness, bolstered by more than $7 billion in federal grants to states and cities in the past decade, is leveling off, putting the gains at risk. Earlier reports by the agencies had focused on gaps in the system while citing improvements.
"Our concern this year is that because of the economic crisis...we may not be as prepared today as we were a couple of years ago," Levi said, CNN reports. "It would be like trying to hire and train firefighters in the middle of a fire. You don't do that for fire protection, and we shouldn't be doing that for public health protection."

The report comes two months after another report by the WMD Terrorism Research Center, that said the United States is largely unprepared for a deadly disease outbreak or large-scale bioterror attack. The authors of the report recommended focusing on preparation for large-scale outbreaks, which would automatically improve preparedness for smaller outbreaks.