A new study finds that the nation’s ability to prevent, control and treat outbreaks of infectious diseases is compromised – badly in some states, although not so much in Colorado.
A report released Tuesday by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation called the shortcomings “major gaps.”
The evaluation is based on 10 indicators, among them funding of public health services, level of vaccinations, preparation for effects of climate change, ability of health labs to test during a crisis and handle pickup and delivery of samples, routine screening for HIV under Medicaid and whether there was an evaluation of continuity of service during a real crisis or staged exercise.
Colorado came up short in four of 10 categories – two in vaccination levels, preparation for the effects of climate change on health and an evaluation of a real or simulated crisis.
Dr. Tista Ghosh, director of disease control and environmental epidemiology at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said hospital officials know of the challenges.
“Our main issue is vaccinations,” Ghosh said. “We’ve had epidemics of whooping cough the last couple of years, but we’re working on ways to detect outbreaks and respond.
“We’re aware of the challenges,” he said. “We’re definitely working to overcome problems.”
Eight states, among them Colorado and the District of Columbia, got passing scores in six categories. Eight states scored the highest – acceptable in seven categories. Three states – Georgia, Nebraska and New Jersey – met only two indicators.
Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health, and Dr. Tom Inglesby, chief executive officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, led a telephone conference call Tuesday to expand on study findings and answer questions.
Great strides have been made since the 1940s in meeting the threat of infectious diseases, but they still cost the nation $140 billion a year, Levi said.
He warned against complacency.
Inglesby said the nation must be alert to the resurgence of polio, smallpox, measles and tuberculosis as well as the potential arrival in the country of the Middle East respiratory syndrome, which has a 50 percent fatality rate.
“Climate change could mean the arrival of mosquito-borne dengue fever,” he said. “That is the most immediate threat.”
Health legislation approved but not implemented, limited electronic health record systems and loss of science-based jobs to budget cuts hamper efforts to meet outbreaks of infectious diseases, Inglesby said.
The last five years have seen the loss of 40,000 public-health jobs, he said.
Recent congressional action to improve fiscal stability nationally offers hope of restoring some cuts in health care, Inglesby and Levi said. But spending priorities must be carefully chosen.
The study, “Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases,” presented several key findings: