Bioterror Highlights ‘Flaws’ in Public Health System
The "national commitment to an effective public health system" has been on the decline for the past 50 years, leaving the nation's public health institutions "programed to fail" as evidenced by the recent anthrax scare, Gregg Bloche and Lawrence Gostin, who teach health law and policy at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins universities, write in an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times. Sanitation advances in the early 20th century and the "antibiotic revolution" in the 1940s prompted Americans to think that the "age old struggle against contagion ... ended in triumph." Subsequently, the American view of health shifted from "grand scale ... population-wide ... threats" to a "private" view with "patient autonomy as the central principle." The "unsurprising result" has been a lack of political support for "strong public health programs and institutions," leaving the system "ill-funded, fragmented, highly respectful of personal choice and unprepared for a national coordinated response to crisis." Now, the "profoundly flawed [public health] system" includes "antiquated laws" that prohibit data sharing between public health and law enforcement agencies and policies that fail to provide sufficient "power" to control "property and persons in the event of bioterrorism." While medical technologies are "sufficient to cope with ... [current] threats," Bloche and Gostin conclude: "The challenge ahead is a matter of organization and resources -- and willingness to see the virtues of personal autonomy against the larger backdrop of the common good" (Bloche/Gostin, Los Angeles Times, 11/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.