WASHINGTON – A public health system better prepared to handle a biological attack or epidemic should be the result of new spending in next year's federal health and homeland security budgets,two Cabinet members said Thursday.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson got together to discuss the administration's fiscal year 2005 budget request,calling it “the next step on our defense from bio-terrorism.”
“The Bio-Surveillance Program Initiative will enhance our defenses against bio-terrorism and enable all parts of the federal government to work together more closely and more cooperatively,” Thompson said.
The project balances new and existing programs,including food safety,hospital preparedness,state and local preparedness,vaccine research and procurement,health professionals,training,laboratories and bio-terror research.
“These new investments will not only better prepare our nation for and protect us from a bio-terrorist attack,they will also better prepare us for any public health emergency,” Thompson said.
“Whether the biological agents are thrown at us by a terrorist or by Mother Nature,our ability to detect it and respond to it quickly,certainly quicker that we've ever been able to do in the past,means that we will save lives … that's our mutual goal,” Ridge said.
Thompson said that the program is designed “to pull together the various federal government resources devoted to this issue and create one integrated system.”
The new system will bring together information collected by the departments of Homeland Security,Agriculture,Health and Human Services and other agencies,“so that we can more effectively protect the safety of our food supply and the health of our citizens,” Ridge said.
Ridge said that it would dramatically improve and expand current bio-surveillance efforts.
His department's Science and Technology Division would receive an additional $65 million in fiscal 2005. Added to the $53 million in the current budget,the total fiscal year 2005 budget would be $118 million.
“If Congress approves President Bush's request,my department will invest $130 million in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,be able to heighten human health surveillance,be able to improve the linkage between public health laboratories and be able to increase the capability of border health and quarantine stations,” Thompson said.
The project would enhance CDC's disease surveillance capability by allowing it to analyze information more quickly after it is collected across the country.
“We'll be able to get information coming from hospitals,pharmacists,clinics and so on across America,on a daily basis. This also will be set up so it will protect the patient's identification,” Thompson said.
For example,the department will know within hours if there are an unusual number of drug purchases in Boston for a particular disease. That information now takes weeks to collect.
The budget request also gives an additional $5 million to the Food and Drug Administration to connect public health and environmental officials and integrate the operations with the DHS threat analysis.
A large portion of the funds would be destined to improve the new bio-watch program,which monitors the air in many of the nation's urban centers for the presence of certain biological pathogens.
“Early detection and early response are critical to saving lives in the event of a bio-terrorist attack,” Ridge said.
The plan is to double the number of monitoring devices,include more advanced technology and make the system more efficient.
The president's budget also provides $11 million to DHS “to make sure that the bio-surveillance data is collected and coordinated in one central location,so we can provide the decision makers with all the necessary information they need to protect this country,” Ridge said.
Thompson said there is money left from the 2002 and 2003 budgets for state and local governments,meaning there should be enough money to continue to improve public health services.
“We've gone from $300 million in 2001,to $3.9 billion,that was requested for this year. I'm happy to say that we are better prepared to respond to any public health emergency in America,” said Thompson.
“At the end of the day,the system that Secretary Thompson and I have been charged to build and to operate will make our country not only safer … but also healthier,” Ridge said.