SARS Outbreak: Improvements to Public Health Capacity Are Needed for Responding to Bioterrorism and Emerging Infectious Diseases: Testimony of Janet Heinrich, Director, Health Care--Public Health Issues before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives   [open pdf - 298KB]

The efforts of public health agencies and health care organizations to increase their preparedness for major public health threats such as bioterrorism and the worldwide influenza outbreaks known as pandemics have improved the nation's capacity to respond to SARS and other emerging infectious disease outbreaks, but gaps in preparedness remain. Specifically, GAO found that there are gaps in disease surveillance systems and laboratory facilities and that there are workforce shortages. GAO found that planning for regional coordination was lacking between states. GAO also found that states were developing plans for receiving and distributing medical supplies for emergencies and for mass vaccinations in the event of a public health emergency. GAO found that most hospitals lack the capacity to respond to large-scale infectious disease outbreaks. Most emergency departments have experienced some degree of crowding and therefore in some cases may not be able to handle a large influx of patients during a potential SARS or other infectious disease outbreak. Most hospitals across the country reported participating in basic planning activities for such outbreaks. However, few hospitals have adequate medical equipment, such as the ventilators that are often needed for respiratory infections such as SARS, to handle the large increases in the number of patients that may result. The public health response to outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases such as SARS could be improved by the completion of federal and state influenza pandemic response plans that address problems related to the purchase, distribution, and administration of supplies of vaccines and antiviral drugs during an outbreak.

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