December 18, 2007 / 8:24 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. still unprepared for disaster: report

<p>A mass flu vaccination drill in San Luis Obispo, California, to test the readiness of the county to handle an outbreak of a serious communicable disease such as bird flu. The United States remains unprepared for disasters ranging from biological attacks to a flu pandemic, and funding for preparedness is falling, according to a report released on Tuesday. REUTERS/Phil Klein</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States remains unprepared for disasters ranging from biological attacks to a flu pandemic, and funding for preparedness is falling, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Many states still lack a stockpile of drugs, masks, gloves and other equipment needed to battle a pandemic of diseases, despite five years of constant and detailed warning, the Trust for America’s Health said in its report.

“Overall, federal funding for state and local preparedness will have declined by 25 percent in 3 years if the president’s FY (fiscal year) 2008 request is approved,” the report reads.

“Until all states measure up, the United States is not safe.”

The nonprofit Trust has been issuing reports every year for five years, and said the 2001 anthrax attacks, in which five people died when anthrax spores were mailed to several offices, should have been a wake-up call.

The disasters caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita that wrecked the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005 should have galvanized more action and highlighted a variety of problems with U.S. disaster preparedness, the group said.

But the report released on Tuesday still finds preparedness is spotty.

“Thirteen states do not have adequate plans to distribute emergency vaccines, antidotes, and medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile,” the report reads.

“Twenty-one states do not have statutes that allow for adequate liability protection for healthcare volunteers during emergencies. Twelve states do not have a disease surveillance system compatible with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Electronic Disease Surveillance System,” it added.

“Seven states have not purchased any portion of their federally subsidized or unsubsidized antivirals to use during a pandemic flu. Seven states and (Washington) D.C. lack sufficient capabilities to test for biological threats.”

Health experts agree that a pandemic of some sort of disease is overdue and believe the H5N1 avian influenza circulating in Europe, Asia and Africa is the most immediate threat.

World Health Organization experts are now investigating a cluster of human H5N1 cases in Pakistan where it is possible there has been human to human transmission of the virus, usually passed rarely from birds to people. It has infected 340 people and killed 209 globally since 2003.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials said people should understand that local officials are trying to prepare when they can but said it shared concerns that federal funding was not being kept up.

“Diseases recognize neither state nor local boundaries and every link in the local, state and federal chain of protection must be strong,” the group said in a statement.

Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by David Wiessler

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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