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Carolyn Hax

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Posted at 12:01 AM ET, 09/01/2011

Dangerous gaps remain in nation’s bioterrorism preparedness, report says

Members of a hazardous materials team wait outside the West Trenton U.S. Post Office in Ewing, N.J., on Oct. 25, 2001. A worker at the facility contracted skin anthrax. (DANIEL HULSHIZER/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
A decade after envelopes containing anthrax terrorized the nation and alerted officials to the need to protect against bioterrorism, significant gaps remain in the nation’s capacity to respond to a bioterrorism attack, according to an analysis released Thursday.

Although the anthrax attacks triggered an unprecedented attempt to bolster the nation’s preparedness, and significant improvements have been made, much more work remains to be done, according to the analysis by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, two private nonprofit, nonpartisan research groups.

“Currently, there is an additional new threat to preparedness — the current economic climate and budget cuts at the federal, state and local level mean that the progress made over the past decade could be lost,” the 92-page report concludes. “Until public health emergency preparedness receives sufficient and sustained funding, Americans will continue to be needlessly at risk for a range of public health threats.”

Among the areas of concern are:

● Thirty-three states have cut funding for public health, with 18 of those states cutting funding for two years in a row. Local public health departments have cut about 29,000 jobs, representing 19 percent of their public health workforce. Nationally, federal support for public health preparedness has been cut by 37 percent.

● The United States has 50,000 fewer public health workers than it did 20 years ago and one-third of public health workers will be eligible to retire within five years.

● The ability of the medical system for care for a “massive influx of patients remains one of the most serious challenges for emergency preparedness.”

● The nation still lacks an “integrated, national approach” to monitoring disease outbreaks, “which would dramatically improve response capabilities ranging from a bioterrorism attack to catastrophic disasters to contamination of the food supply.”

● The capacity to produce tests, antiviral medication and vaccines remains outdated.

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By  |  12:01 AM ET, 09/01/2011

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