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HHS Unveils Health Security Strategy for Emergencies

 |  By John Commins  
   January 07, 2010

HHS today released its first National Health Security Strategy to protect public health during large-scale emergencies, such as natural disasters, bioterrorism strikes, and pandemics. The strategy sets priorities for government and non-government activities over the next four years.

"As we've learned in the response to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, responsibility for improving our nation's ability to address existing and emerging health threats must be broadly shared by everyone—governments, communities, families, and individuals," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a media release. "The National Health Security Strategy is a call to action for each of us so that every community becomes fully prepared and ready to recover quickly after an emergency."

The strategy provides a framework for actions that will build community resilience, strengthen, and sustain health emergency response systems, as well as fill current gaps, she said.

"Events which threaten the health of the people of this nation could very easily compromise our national security. Whether it's a pandemic or a premeditated chemical attack, our public health system must be prepared to respond to protect the interests of the American people," Sebelius said. "In order to be prepared to both respond to an incident and to recover, we need a strong national health system with individuals and families ready to handle the health effects of a disaster."

The National Health Security Strategy and an interim implementation guide outline 10 objectives:

  1. Foster informed, empowered individuals and communities

  2. Develop and maintain the workforce needed for national health security

  3. Ensure that situational awareness so responders are aware of changes in an emergency situation

  4. Foster integrated, healthcare delivery systems that can respond to a disaster of any size

  5. Ensure timely and effective communications

  6. Promote an effective countermeasures enterprise, which is a process to develop, buy, and distribute medical countermeasures

  7. Ensure prevention or mitigation of environmental and other emerging threats to health

  8. Incorporate post-incident health recovery into planning and response

  9. Work with cross-border and global partners to enhance national, continental, and global health security

  10. Ensure that all systems that support national health security are based upon the best available science, evaluation, and quality improvement methods

The National Health Security Strategy also highlights specific actions that the nation—including individuals, communities, non-government organizations, and government agencies—should take to address public health threats.

Priorities for the federal government include improving the system for developing and delivering countermeasures—medications, vaccines, supplies, and equipment for health emergencies; coordinating across government and with communities to identify and prioritize the capabilities, research, and investments needed to achieve national health security; and evaluating the impact of these investments.

Federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government agencies, as well as medical, public health, and community-based organizations collaborated to develop the strategy and interim implementation guide. HHS also solicited direct input from non-federal participants during six regional workshops, and worked with the Institute of Medicine to engage the medical community.

The Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act directed HHS to develop the National Health Security Strategy with an accompanying implementation plan by 2009 and to revise the documents every four years. HHS said it will update the implementation plan every two years to reflect advances in public health and medicine.

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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