Experts Warn Of Antimicrobial Resistance, Additional Threats To National Biosecurity

Claudia Adrien | Homeland Preparedness News | June 28, 2019

Dr. Asha George...was among a panel of experts testifying about the state of U.S. preparedness for biological attacks and infectious disease pandemics. The experts agreed that a range of factors affect our country's ability to fight these threats, including weakened or fragmented federal oversight, limited incentives for research and development, and a lack of preparedness at the local level to protect vulnerable populations. "In short, the nation is not prepared for biological outbreaks, acts of bioterrorism, biological warfare of accidental releases with catastrophic consequences," George said. "We are talking about catastrophic events that affect the function of our entire society."

Dr. Asha George and Akhila KosarajuAmong these concerns is antimicrobial resistance, one of the foremost global public health threats. Drug resistant diseases cause at least 700,000 deaths worldwide each year and could increase to 10 million deaths per year by 2050, said U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), chairman of the subcommittee. He added that those were conservative projections. "Antibiotic infections pose serious threats to our national security," said Helen Boucher, director of the Tufts Center for Integrated Management of Antimicrobial Resistance at Tufts University. "Resistant pathogens complicate our soldiers' combat wounds, increasing risk of limb loss and death, and compromise our military combat readiness and effectiveness."

Addressing antimicrobial resistance and other threats can only be accomplished when there is coordination among agencies at the federal level, specifically at the level of the White House, the panelists said. The Government Accountability Office reports that there are almost two dozen presidentially appointed officials who have a responsibility for biodefense. The recent Zika and Ebola outbreaks show it's not always clear who is in charge or where funding comes from in a situation and is compounded by that it may take months for supplemental appropriations to be distributed. There's also the biodefense challenge at the grassroots level...