Ridge Announces Plans to Create a Health-Data Network to Help Fight Bioterrorism
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge yesterday announced plans for the creation of a "central clearinghouse" that would coordinate federal, state and local health officials' response to a bioterrorist attack, USA Today reports (USA Today, 11/28). The new data network will be modeled after HHS' Health Alert Network, which was designed to connect state and local health officials with the CDC. However, some health officials have criticized the current system, saying it "reaches just 39 states, fails to include many local and county health officials and allows only one-way communication." The Wall Street Journal reports that health officials have "complained for years about their inability to quickly and effectively disseminate information about infectious diseases," a problem that is compounded by state and local health systems' lack of communication technology. According to the CDC, less than 50% of the 3,000 health departments nationwide have high-speed Internet access, and 10% lack e-mail capability. Mohammad Akhter, executive director for the American Public Health Association, said, "Our communications capacity is really in a dismal state, and that's very dangerous when you're talking about an infectious disease." He added that the new database initiative is "long overdue." Ridge will request additional funding for the network as part of the HHS fiscal year 2003 budget. Ridge said, "We want to put information at the fingertips of public health officials to be able to identify, as soon as it happens, that an attack has occurred." Acknowledging "deficiencies" in the current system, Ridge added, "We are not as well equipped as we want to be, but we're going to ramp up quickly" (Dreazen, Wall Street Journal, 11/28).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.