Bush calls for $7.1B to prepare for bird flu

Federal pandemic flu Web portal

President Bush asked for $7.1 billion in funding today to combat a potential avian flu pandemic, unveiled a national strategy and called on all 50 states and local health departments to develop pandemic plans.

The National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response includes quarantine measures and calls for businesses to develop options for off-site work during flu seasons to limit exposure. The Bush administration said it will release a detailed pandemic plan tomorrow on the new www.pandemicflu.gov Web site, which serves as a focal point for public information on pandemics and avian flu.

In a speech at the National Institutes of Health this morning, Bush said that although no pandemic influenza outbreak exists, scientists are increasingly concerned about a new flu virus known as H5N1 -- or avian flu -- "that is now spreading through bird populations across Asia and has recently reached Europe.”

Bush added that the H5N1 strain has infected only a limited number of people in Asia, and although it is not yet able to spread from human to human, “there is still a need for vigilance…. It has demonstrated the ability to infect human beings, and it has produced fatal illness in humans.”

He said the $7.1 billion in funding would help boost pandemic preparedness by allocating:

* $2.8 billion allocated for technology to grow vaccines in human or animal cell cultures.

* $1.5 billion for the Health and Human Services and Defense departments to buy flu vaccine.

* $800 million for developing new treatments and vaccines.

* $644 million to ensure that all levels of government are prepared to respond to a pandemic.

The Senate added $8 billion to the HHS budget last week to combat avian flu.

Bush also asked for $251 million to help other countries develop disease surveillance systems and $100 million for state and local pandemic preparedness. He said the National Bio-Surveillance Initiative, managed by the Homeland Security Department, "will help us rapidly detect, quantify and respond to outbreaks of disease in humans and animals and deliver information quickly to state and local and national and international public health officials.”

The national strategy also calls for the use of advanced real-time disease surveillance systems at the local, state and federal levels to keep public health officials continuously aware of the illness' profile at a community level.

Dr. Rex Archer, health director of Kansas City, Mo., and president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials said the president’s call for an extra $100 million in funding for public health preparedness does not make up for the shortfall in his proposed fiscal 2006 budget for HHS. “They took away $130 million, and now they are only giving back $100 million,” Archer said.

The Bush administration, in its proposed 2006 HHS budget, slashed funding for public health preparedness by $129 million, from $926 million in 2005 to $797 million. The House version of the 2006 HHS bill appropriates $853 million, while the Senate’s version sticks with the $797 million the administration requested.

Archer said the low level of funding for state and local public health departments will limit response to a pandemic where it’s most needed. “It’s like installing a burglar alarm but not having the personnel to respond when the alarm goes off,” Archer said.

Michael Earls a spokesman for Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on disease prevention, said two-thirds of the states do not electronically track disease outbreak information based on national standards. That could cause serious delays in the rapid reporting of a pandemic outbreak.

Bush’s strategy states that all levels of government worldwide should "take appropriate and lawful action to contain an outbreak within the borders of their community, province, state or nation.”

The strategy states that governments should be prepared to limit nonessential movement of people, goods and services into and out of affected areas and use quarantines when necessary.

Governments must also have plans to ensure the continued operation of critical infrastructures during a pandemic in which travel is restricted for potentially months. The strategy envisions a role for U.S. military forces to support critical infrastructure but does not provide details.

Jeffrey Levi, a senior policy adviser at Trust for America’s Health said the strategy document “lacks the substance and level of detail needed to prepare for the impact a pandemic could have on the economy, business operations, transportation and other crucial areas of daily life.”

The organization estimated in a report it issued last December that a pandemic could cause 89,000 to 207,000 deaths and have an economic impact of $71 billion to $166 billion.

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