Report warns of decreasing ability of U.S. to respond to bioterror attack

A report recently issued by two non-profit organizations claims that public health programs designed to detect and respond to bioterror events or disease outbreaks will be at risk if automatic budget cuts remain.

The warning come in a report entitled "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public From Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism," which was produced by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, according to CIDRAP News.

The ninth annual assessment examines preparedness funding across the United States and names programs in specific cities and states that are at risk due to proposed federal funding cuts.

Dr. Jeffrey Levi, the executive director of TFAH, said recent federal and state budget cuts are undermining the gains that have been made in preparedness since the 2001 anthrax attacks.

"The great recession is taking its toll on response to public health threats," Levi said, CIDRAP News reports.

During the past year, 40 states and Washington, D.C., have cut state funding for public health programs. Fifteen states are currently in their third year of cutbacks. Meanwhile, state and local programs have seen a decline in federal funding by 38 percent from fiscal year 2005 to 2012, after adjusting for inflation, according to TFAH.

Cuts in federal funding could put a number of key programs at risk, the TFAH report concludes. Fifty-one out of the 72 cities in the Cities Readiness Initiative could be eliminated, weakening their ability to distribute and administer vaccines in an emergency.

Twenty-four states are at risk of losing the support of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiology field officer who is trained to respond to outbreaks, according to CIDRAP News.

Congress is currently debating the reauthorization of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2006, which Levi said would address many of TFAH’s concerns. Nonetheless, Levi is alarmed because spending caps at fiscal year 2011 levels still cut into the base of preparedness measures. Furthermore, automatic cuts are scheduled to begin soon as part of the federal Budget Control Act.