How Am I Doin’, Doc? Measuring Up Against Biothreats and Disease

Trust for America’s Health has published their annual report, “Ready or Not: Protecting the Public’s Health from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism“. Started in 2003, the Ready or Not series serves as yearly check on how our nation is doing with regard to preparedness for public health emergencies.

“Caught off guard” is the phrase most used to describe the country’s level of preparedness and ability to respond to crises. The report looks at the response to the 2016 outbreaks of Ebola and Zika virus as prime examples of the inability to respond both effectively and efficiently. Funding seems to be a major challenge since financial assistance is only delivered on a supplemental or as-needed basis, instead of relying on an at-the-ready Health Emergency Fund which could provide assistance almost immediately in the event of public health-related outbreaks and disasters. Trust for America’s Health defines this as a chronic problem.

At a more specific level, ‘Ready or Not’ provides information on each state, and how they measure up against the 10 key indicators of public health preparedness such as flu vaccination rate, food safety, public health laboratories, and emergency healthcare access. According to the press release, “26 states and Washington, D.C. scored a six or lower” with regard to those indicators. Massachusetts takes the top score of ten (out of ten), while Washington and North Carolina both scored a high nine, and Alaska and Idaho bottomed out with a low score of 3. Even though more than 25 states maintained or increased their public health funding, only 10 states vaccinated 50% or more of their population against the flu during the 2015-2016 flu season.

The report does note that emergency operations planning and coordination at large have improved, yet the “disjointed, uncoordinated and inconsistent” approach to public health and first response continues to affect and hinder overall readiness. A lack of an up-to-date biosurveillance system also puts our nation at risk, as does the current inability of medical technology to keep up with emerging threats, which, again, is attributed to chronic underfunding. Bottom line: we’re in slightly better shape than last year, but we still have a long way to go to true health and biosecurity readiness.

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