Overview of the U.S. Public Health System in the Context of Bioterrorism [January 17, 2003]   [open pdf - 151KB]

The anthrax attacks in 2001, along with the events of September 11, have heightened concern about the nation's ability to respond to bioterrorist attacks. The role of public health in bioterrorism preparedness and response is to plan and coordinate emergency medical and public health response capabilities, to detect, investigate and identify disease outbreaks using surveillance systems, epidemiology and laboratory services, and to communicate rapidly and clearly with response partners, health practitioners, the media and the public. The capacity to fulfill these responsibilities depends on the strength of the infrastructure that supports the provision of public health services. The public health infrastructure is the organizations, people and data systems needed to assure the provision of essential public health services. Even before September 11 and last fall's anthrax attacks, a consensus had emerged among public health experts that the public health system had deteriorated. Recent congressional action has provided funding and guidance to improve public health capacity at the federal, state and local level. Challenges remain in a variety of areas, including: coordination and communication between public health officials and other participants in public health preparedness and response, upgrading data and information systems capabilities, improving laboratory capacity, increasing emergency medical response capacity, improving the skills and education of the public health workforce, and conducting research to improve bioterrorism prevention, detection and treatment options. Finally, many worry about how to be sure that the increased funding devoted to increasing public health capacity yields results in improved preparedness and response capability.

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, RL31719
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