Bioterrorism Preparedness Push Bolsters Public Health Capabilities

But Concerns Grow About Smallpox Campaign Detracting from Core Public Health Activities

News Releases
July 30, 2003

Alwyn Cassil: (202) 264-3484

ASHINGTON, D.C.—The national push to prepare for terrorist attacks has bolstered communities’ public health readiness, but concerns are growing that the national smallpox vaccination campaign could detract from traditional core public health activities, according to a study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).

Four key areas strengthened by bioterrorism preparedness efforts at the local level include: increased awareness of the importance of public health; improved relationships among federal, state and local agencies; upgraded public health infrastructure, such as improved communications networks; and enhanced readiness planning and assessment of public health threats.

"Generally, local officials believe the national focus on bioterrorism preparedness has enhanced public health capability," said Paul B. Ginsburg, Ph.D., president of HSC, a nonpartisan policy research organization funded exclusively by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"At the same time, many local officials are concerned that the smallpox initiative is focused on a single threat rather than broader emergency preparedness and could cut into core public health efforts, such as immunizations and health promotion and screening," Ginsburg said.

While the federal government has authorized more than $2 billion for public health bioterrorism preparedness efforts, local officials are concerned about looming state and local budget cuts, the study found.

"The new federal funding has helped communities build public health capacity, but the new funding can’t be used to offset state and local budget shortfalls, leaving some traditional public health efforts, such as immunizations and health screenings, in jeopardy," said Andrea B. Staiti, an HSC health research assistant and co-author of the study along with Aaron Katz of the University of Washington and Jack Hoadley of Georgetown University.

Based on interviews with health care leaders in 12 nationally representative communities—Boston; Cleveland; Greenville, S.C.; Indianapolis; Lansing, Mich.; Little Rock, Ark.; Miami; northern New Jersey; Orange County, Calif.; Phoenix; Seattle; and Syracuse, N.Y.—the study’s findings are detailed in a new HSC Issue BriefHas Bioterrorism Preparedness Improved Public Health?

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The Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely insights on the nation’s changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy. HSC, based in Washington, D.C., is funded exclusively by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.