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Public health preparedness: ready or not?

The United States is showing progress in how it prevents, identifies and contains new diseases, outbreaks and bioterrorism threats, as well as how it responds to natural disasters. Nevertheless, a new report warns that budget cuts at all levels of government may put in jeopardy the gains made in this area over the past decade.

“Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Disease, Disasters and Bioterrorism,”,” a report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says that the recession has led to cuts in public health staffing and eroded the basic capabilities of state and local health departments to successfully respond to crises.

By last year, thirty-three states and the District of Columbia cut public health funding. Federal support for public health preparedness has been cut by 27 percent since 2005. And local public health departments report losing 23,000 jobs (or 15 percent of the total local public health workforce) since 2008.

 “Unfortunately, the recent and continued budget cuts will exacerbate the vulnerable areas in U.S. crisis response capabilities and have the potential to reverse the progress we have made over the last decade,” says Jeff Levi, executive director of TFAH.

“Ready or Not?” provides recommendations that address these gaps, including: making available the resources required to improve and modernize public health systems; supporting policies that ensure there are enough adequately trained public health experts—including epidemiologists, physicians, nurses and other workers—to respond to threats to the public's health; and closing the existing day-to-day gaps in public health departments, which make it hard to identify and service the most vulnerable Americans.

The entire report is available on TFAH's website.