Idea Gallery is a recurring editorial series on NewPublicHealth in which guest authors provide their perspective on issues affecting public health. Today, Jeffrey Levi, Executive Director of Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), writes about public health preparedness and a report issued by TFAH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Remembering 9/11 and Anthrax: Public Health’s Vital Role in National Defense.
Ten years ago, the September 11th and anthrax tragedies clearly demonstrated that the public health system was not prepared for the range of modern health threats we face. Since then, significant investments have resulted in the country being much better prepared to respond to public health emergencies ranging from threats of bioterrorism to major infectious disease outbreaks like a pandemic flu or natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.
However, the United States often takes a band-aid approach to public health preparedness. As new emergencies and concerns emerge and attention shifts, it often means resources are diverted from one pressing priority to another, leaving other ongoing areas unaddressed. The unprecedented federal investment in public health preparedness after the September 11th and anthrax attacks was not at a sufficient level to backfill long-standing gaps in infrastructure or update technologies to meet state-of-the-art standards. Currently, there is an additional new threat to preparedness – the current economic climate and budget cuts at the federal, state and local level mean that progress made over the past decade could be lost.