Bush Pushes Bioterrorism Budget Request in Pittsburgh
President Bush traveled to Pittsburgh yesterday to promote his budget request to increase spending on bioterrorism preparedness to $5.9 billion, saying the unprecedented funding level would both protect against future bioterrorist attacks and improve the nation's public health system, the Washington Post reports. Viewing a "state-of-the-art" health surveillance system at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Bush said, "It's money that will enable me to say we're doing everything we can to protect America" (Connolly, Washington Post, 2/6). The proposed fiscal year 2003 budget that the president released Monday seeks $37.7 billion for homeland defense, with $5.9 billion targeted toward improving the nation's ability to respond to a bioterrorist attack. That amount, which would support such programs as hospital modernization, vaccine development and antibiotic stockpiling, would represent a 319% increase over bioterrorism funding this fiscal year (Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, 2/6). About $300 million of the requested funding would be used to promote disease-tracking systems, an example of which UPMC officials demonstrated to Bush. The Real-Time Outbreak and Disease Surveillance System, or RODS, is a "pioneering computer-assisted effort" established in 1999 to "discern patterns in infectious disease by sifting data from 17 hospitals in Western Pennsylvania" (O'Toole, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2/6). Bush called the system a "modern-day DEW line," referring to the Distant Early Warning System employed during the Cold War to warn of a possible Soviet missile attack over the North Pole (Los Angeles Times, 2/6). A system similar to RODS will be used at the Winter Olympics to monitor for a possible bioterrorist attack (Hutcheson, Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/6).
Joined by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, Bush said that his budget request would also help to correct deficiencies in the public health system. "The monies we spend to protect America today are likely to yield long-term benefits, are likely to provide some incredible cures to diseases that many years ago we never thought would be cured" (Washington Post, 2/6). Research on biological agents, for example, could lead to treatments for "more common killers" such as malaria, tuberculosis and the flu (Ross, AP/Nando Times, 2/6). But the Post reports that even if Congress grants Bush his full request, it could take "years, if not decades, to reap many of the benefits." For instance, Michael Wagner, director of the RODS laboratory in Pittsburgh, said that even if more localities develop similar tracking systems, "few local or state health officials have the technology to receive and analyze the data" (Washington Post, 2/6). In addition, some medical researchers are concerned that Bush's emphasis on bioterrorism protection will crowd out funding for other research, such as AIDS and diabetes (Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/6). PRI's "The World" also reported on Bush's proposed funding for bioterrorism prevention. The full segment is available at http://play.rbn.com/?wgbh/world/demand/tu1.rm. Note: You must have RealPlayer Audio to listen to the report (Bell, "The World," PRI, 2/5).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.