Public Health Emergency - Leading a Nation Prepared
President Obama signed the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act reauthorization into law today, a critical step in making our nation more resilient to public health emergencies and disasters. I commend Congress on its bipartisan leadership in reauthorizing PAHPA. The reauthorization is a recognition of the importance of investing in innovation and supporting communities in public health preparedness. The programs and flexibilities provided through the reauthorized law will help move preparedness forward for our country and ultimately help build communities that are more resilient when faced with disaster.
Congress passed the first PAHPA in 2006, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to enable the federal government to support communities in preventing, preparing for, and responding to the adverse health effects of public health emergencies and disasters. Since that time, the programs and partnerships under the act have made tremendous progress in fostering a more resilient nation.
The 2013 law builds on work the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has undertaken to advance national health security. These include authorizing funding for public health and medical preparedness programs, such as the Hospital Preparedness Program and the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement. These programs build the capabilities of communities’ health care and public health systems to support people in need during and after disasters.
Thousands of hospitals and communities across the country participate in these programs, and because of this participation they now have stronger capabilities and better planning to respond to disasters. They regularly exercise and conduct drills. They are building partnerships across their communities so that if parts of the infrastructure are overwhelmed by disaster, the system can still provide care. Using these programs over the past seven years to strengthen health systems and build coalitions, states have been able to handle in a number of disasters on their own without federal responders.
Yet when disasters are so catastrophic that federal support is needed, we have seen the return on investments: a more coordinated and effective response. Recent examples include the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and the successful evacuation of health care facilities after storms such as the Joplin, Mo., tornado and Superstorm Sandy. With the reauthorization, communities can continue to count on our National Disaster Medical System, now more than 7,000 personnel strong, to bring medical professionals from across the country to provide care and support hospitals, shelters, and communities after a disaster.
The act also grants state health departments greatly needed flexibility in dedicating staff resources to meeting critical community needs in a disaster. Under new authorities, states may choose to temporarily deploy federally funded state personnel whose day-to-day jobs are not related directly to emergencies, to meet immediate urgent needs. For example, staff paid through HIV grant funding could be deployed for a short term provide care for the public during a pandemic.
In a pandemic or in an act of terrorism, our nation will need drugs, vaccines, and medical equipment and supplies to protect health and save lives. PAHPA authorizes funding through 2018 for buying these medical countermeasures under the Project BioShield Act, and increases the flexibility of BioShield to support advanced research and development of potential medical countermeasures. PAHPA also enhances the authority of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to support rapid responses to public health emergencies by clarifying that even before an event, FDA may issue an emergency use authorization to allow emergency use of certain products as medical countermeasures. This approach supports more responsive, flexible, and streamlined processes before and after an emergency.
Companies that develop these medical countermeasures and the medical professionals who administer them may be protected under an antitrust exemption in PAHPA. With this provision, these partners can step up in a time of need and collaborate to provide our nation with the maximum supply of needed vaccine in the event of a pandemic.
The Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act contributes to our collective ability – agencies at all levels of government, private industry, and community organization – to be more nimble, effective and efficient as we improve our nation’s health preparedness and every community’s resilience.
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