RAND warns of pandemic underpreparedness

RAND warns of pandemic underpreparedness
RAND warns of pandemic underpreparedness 

By Glenda Fauntleroy
April 23, 2007

The RAND Corporation last week sounded the alarm for refocusing the 
nation's attention on a potential pandemic outbreak, warning that the 
country is underprepared for a disaster that could claim as many as 2 
million U.S. lives.

We are overdue for a pandemic outbreak, said Nicole Lurie, M.D., 
co-director of RAND Center for Domestic and International Health 
Security, at a briefing Friday.  Lurie said a pandemic might kill 2 
million U.S. residents and 50 million worldwide. And when it strikes, it 
would take at least 6 months to develop a vaccine for protection.

The federal government has invested more than $5 billion since the 
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to upgrade the countrys ability to 
prevent and respond to large-scale public health emergencies, she said.

In contrast, public health has not been well funded for the past 25 
years. It took 9/11 to wake people up to see our public health system 
was a mess. She said the system is still recovering.

The amount of $5 billion may look like a lot of money, but its really 
just a drop in the bucket to whats really needed to reshape the public 
health system, she said.

Lurie said progress has been made in using technology to improve 
communications and pandemic surveillance but that more investment was 
needed. Theres been lots of payoff in investing in technology, she said. 
Those investments have allowed public health agencies to make gains in 
two critical areas communications and surveillance.

Despite these advances, Lurie said, there are still huge gaps in 
preparedness. She said one hindrance to answering the question, Are we 
prepared? has been that there is no clear understanding of what being 
prepared means.

As a step toward establishing methods to measure whether a community is 
ready for a large-scale health emergency, RAND recently convened an 
expert panel to come to a clear definition of public health 

The panel issued 16 recommended actions for communities around the 
country to better deal with emergencies, including having a clear 
command structure, strong public communications, an adequate number of 
public health workers and volunteers, and a continuous process of 
testing and maintaining systems.

Lurie said that after adopting the panels recommendations, the next step 
is to ensure public health has a reliable funding stream to continue 
making improvements.

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