Budget cuts could slow biodefense work

The Trust for America’s Health has released its annual report card on the preparedness of states for public health emergencies, including disasters, diseases and bioterrorism.

The report shows that scores are up but that recession-driven cuts may lead to lowered preparedness.

The TFAH report, called "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public’s Health from Diseases Disasters, and Bioterrorism," showed the highest scores ever recorded in the group’s eighth annual assessment of the preparedness of the state public health departments, CIDRAP reports.

The assessment also showed that 33 states and Washington, D.C. reduced their public health budgets in 2009-2010, with 18 of the states cutting funding for the second year in a row.

“Overall, states have the highest scores ever for emergency preparedness,” Jeffrey Levi, executive director of TFAH, stated in a press teleconference, according to CIDRAP. “(Although) the combined cuts constitute an emergency for emergency health preparedness in the United States.”

TFAH’s report is a snapshot of key issues in each state’s public health system, including items like funding commitment, foodborne disease detection, and reporting and laboratory response capacity for chemical threats.

Three states scored a perfect score, while 11 states scored on nine out of 10. Eighteen states scored an eight, seven states and Washington D.C. scored seven, nine states scored six and two states - Montana and Iowa - scored five.

“I wouldn’t want any readers to draw the conclusion that they’re at increased risk because they live in a state that didn’t get a perfect score,” James S. Blumenstock, chief program officer for public health practice at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said, according to CIDRAP. “These are just 10 of what could be hundreds of indicators, given the depth and breadth of overall preparedness. If a state didn’t get a point for an indicator or category … it doesn’t mean they’re totally void of that capability or capacity. And this is an evolving and enduring process.”