Top Health Official: Country is not Prepared for Bioterrorism

A top public health official tells members of Congress that the country is "not nearly enough" prepared for an act of bioterrorism.

When asked if the nation is prepared for an act of bioterrorism, Michael Caldwell did not waste words.

"Not nearly enough," Caldwell told the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs at a hearing on the local role in homeland security. Caldwell, MD, MPH, is a spokesperson for the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO.

He noted that public health departments have long experience in responding to infectious disease outbreaks and other local emergencies with public health implications, but added, "We have a very long way to go to achieve the capacities we need to detect and respond to an act of bioterrorism as quickly as possible, to prevent the spread of disease and save as many lives as possible."

Caldwell, commissioner of health for Dutchess County, N.Y., explained that although federal and state resources and technical assistance are crucial, "Public health preparedness is local."

Local preparedness depends on planning and cooperation among local public health agencies, health care providers, and traditional first responders, such as fire, police and emergency services.

Caldwell urged Congress to provide ample funding to allow bioterrorism preparedness to move forward swiftly. "We cannot wait to create the necessary positions in our public health workforce, to enhance our laboratory capacity, to improve our epidemiologic surveillance, to develop local health information and communication systems, or to provide assurance of a comprehensive, immediate response to any public health crisis," he said.

He noted that as the nation invests in local public health infrastructure, it is not just preparing for bioterrorism, but also strengthening our ability to respond to other health emergencies. "The systems for disease surveillance, communication, data management, interagency planning and mobilizing a response are the same for bioterrorism as they are for any other disease outbreaks or emerging infections, such as West Nile virus, E. Coli, Hepatitis C, or Lyme disease," said Dr. Caldwell, "Every dollar we spend on bioterrorism preparedness will pay off in countless other ways."

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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