Bush to seek $274M for biosurveillance

The Bush administration will request $274 million in fiscal 2005 for an integrated biosurveillance initiative that will, among other things, develop a national data collection and analysis system for identifying possible bioterrorist incidents and other disease outbreaks.

The Health and Human Services Department would allocate $130 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue investments in disease surveillance, including better links with public health laboratories and improved capabilities at border health and quarantine stations.

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said the new system will better enhance CDC's traditional approach to disease surveillance by analyzing information sooner from across the country. Data would be collected from various sources, such as hospitals, nurse call-in lines and pharmacy sales, on a near real-time basis to detect disease patterns and prepare an appropriate defense, he said.

"For example if there's an unusual number of drug purchases in Boston, Mass., for a particular disease we will be better able to analyze what is happening and why," Thompson said this afternoon in a joint press conference with Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge.

The system would be different from the Health Alert Network, which primarily pushes information to public health and other facilities. The federal government and health officials have said for some time that they wanted a better system to analyze data and spot disease outbreaks quickly before they spread.

Thompson didn't describe the system, except that it will likely be Internet-based and more computers will be needed. He said issues of interoperability between different systems will have to be worked out, adding they are "still in the embryonic stages." More details would be released Monday, he added.

Additionally, $118 million would be used in DHS's BioWatch program, which has deployed sensors across 30 cities to collect air samples. The year-old program has collected a half-million samples already, but Ridge said it's a labor-intensive process to collect those sensors and analyze the samples. The money would help to double the program, but he didn't say if that meant doubling the number of cities participating in the program. That depended on whether the program gets the full appropriation.

Ridge said the department will also look at advanced technology in which the sensors would be able to analyze air samples immediately and transmit that information, saving time and effort.

"I have personally seen some models from different sources where they appear to have the capacity, but it needs to be refined," he said, adding there are prototypes out there.

Additionally, DHS's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection division will use $11 million to develop a real-time system for harvesting data on the health of the population, animal, plant health and food supplies. Such data will be integrated with environmental monitoring and intelligence data for better decision making and better response.

The Agriculture Department will get $10 million to improve food and animal surveillance. The Food and Drug Administration will get the remaining $5 million to help coordinate the agency's existing food surveillance capabilities, establish connectivity with public health and environmental officials and integrate DHS's threat analysis.

Both men said agency cooperation is needed to create a more integrated and enhanced surveillance and response system. According to statistics provided by HHS, the total federal bioterrorism budget has swelled from $305 million in fiscal 2001 to $5.2 billion in fiscal 2004.

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