WASHINGTON – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) and Representative Jim Turner (TX), Ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, met with public health groups today to discuss our nation's preparedness for the threat of bio-terrorism. Representative Turner also introduced the RAPID Cures Act today which would develop a strategy to achieve a dramatic reduction in the timeframe required for the delivery of drugs and vaccines to counter pathogen threats for which we have no existing countermeasures.
“I greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with representatives of the public health community,” said Representative Hoyer. “After the September 11th attacks and subsequent anthrax incidents, our nation realized that our public health system was limited in its ability to respond quickly and accurately to new biological and chemical threats. Health departments, state laboratories, and hospitals form the backbone of our public health detection system, and we need to maintain our federal commitment to improve and upgrade their capacity to deal with this new type of threat.
“I share public health experts’ concerns that President Bush’s proposal to cut federal support for bio-terrorism preparedness programs jeopardizes our nation's ability to respond to emergencies. The State and Local Preparedness Program and the Hospital Preparedness Program are critical to improving the public health system’s preparedness, but President Bush has proposed to cut these programs by $144 million for Fiscal Year 2005,” added Hoyer. “I look forward to continuing to work with Representative Turner and the public health community to ensure that our nation builds a strong public health infrastructure and that our local health departments, laboratories, and hospitals can continue to build their capacity to handle these new threats.
Representative Turner's bill to speed delivery of drugs and pathogens was also a topic of discussion.
“We know it is just a matter of time before our terrorist enemies use biological weapons. We must develop the capacity to protect against the bio-weapons of the future by pursuing a Manhattan-type project to shorten the time from ‘bug to drug’ from years to weeks.” said Representative Turner.
“The threat this country faces from bio-terrorism is real and potentially catastrophic. But it might get much worse in the future,” added Turner. “Advances in biotechnology will bring great benefits to our nation, but they also bring danger and the potential for misuse by terrorists. Biotechnology has a ‘dual-use,’ for both good and evil.”
Following the meeting, Shelley Hearne, DrPH, Executive Director of the non-partisan, non-profit Trust for America’s Health observed, “The funds provided by the Administration and Congress over the past two years have helped jump start our nation’s preparedness efforts. Progress has been made by most states, but many still have a long way to go. Two years of bioterror funding cannot make up for decades of underinvestment in the nation’s public health system. The proposed 11 percent cut to state and local preparedness efforts puts all of us at risk.”