Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Brick by Brick: The Strategic Re-Building of the Public Health Infrastructure

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Brick by Brick: The Strategic Re-Building of the Public Health Infrastructure

Article excerpt

The events of September 11, 2001 and the ensuing anthrax attacks have highlighted the need for public health preparedness in the United States. The public health infrastructure of the United States has eroded during the last twenty years due to a "lack of funding, focus, and national attention." 1 There has been a decrease in the number of laboratories and public health personnel which has, in turn, diminished the ability of professionals to collect and analyze data, conduct disease surveillance, and design interventions for the community. 2 The public health system had been "chronically under-funded for the past several decades and the 'infrastructure had greatly deteriorated.'" 3 The anthrax attacks of 2001 served as a wake-up call for public health and medical professionals, the American public, legislators and those tasked with homeland security; the nation's public health system was not equipped to rapidly and effectively respond to a bioterrorism attack whether small or large in scale. 4

To help the nation rebuild the public health infrastructure to respond adequately to any terrorist attack, Congress has passed the Public Health Threats and Emergencies Act of 2000 and the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Act of 2002, which has led to the influx of approximately ninety-nine million dollars into the rebuilding the public health infrastructure. 5 In addition to the increase in funding directed at the strengthening of the public health infrastructure, public health has finally been included as a member of the homeland security "team." On October 18, 2007, President George W. Bush issued Homeland Security Directive-21 regarding public health and medical preparedness. The directive sets forth a National Strategy for protecting the health of Americans during a disaster. Homeland security funding has provided for the reversal of the last twenty years of public health infrastructure erosion resulting in the emergence of a stronger, more prepared public health system. Although the strengthening of the public health infrastructure has been the most successful aspect of homeland security, its ability to sustain the newly strengthened infrastructure by ensuring that newly funded programs and staffs are able to protect the nation's health during times of crisis while maintaining healthy communities during daily life is public health's greatest challenge.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed to serve as the unifying force to lead a national effort to protect and secure America and its people. While the public health community is not a centralized federal department, public health professionals aim to protect and secure the American people from poor health, illness, and disease. The strategic goals developed by DHS (awareness, prevention, protection, response, recovery, service, and organizational excellence) serve as important benchmarks by which to measure the success of the revitalization of the American public health infrastructure.

The public health community has increased its awareness of disease movement and illness occurring throughout the community by enhancing its surveillance systems and hiring epidemiologists trained in recognizing disease trends and outbreaks. One such example of a surveillance program, introduced by the Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is BioWatch. BioWatch is a program which utilizes biological pathogen detectors in conjunction with EPA air quality monitors to collect particles from the air which are then analyzed by public health laboratory professionals. 6 In the event of a pathogen release, the goal of the BioWatch system is to provide early warning to public health professionals before the affected population begins to present at their doctor's offices and local emergency rooms. 7

In addition to BioWatch, some local Departments of Health have been able to implement syndromic surveillance programs due to the increased funding provided by DHS. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.