POLITICS

Flu Pandemic: U.S. Still Not Prepared, Warns Government Watchdog

05/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There are still major gaps in national and state plans to prepare for an influenza pandemic, according to recent reports issued by the Government Accountability Office.

The author of the latest report from February 2009, which found that 10 of the 23 recommendations on pandemic planning it has made to government agencies since 2006 have not been implemented, told the Huffington Post that she is keeping an eye on agencies' reactions to the current swine flu scare.

Bernice Steinhardt, whose next report on government plans to address a pandemic is expected to be released in early June, suspects that not much progress has been made since the February report.

"We haven't gone back since we did the report to see if the status has changed, but I suspect it has not."

The report also highlighted a need to increase the capacity and availability of medication and personnel to handle a pandemic.

Among the conclusions in the report:

For example, state and local jurisdictions that will play crucial roles in preparing for and responding to a pandemic were not directly involved in developing the National Pandemic Implementation Plan, even though it relies on these stakeholders' efforts... At the state level, we found that each state has developed a pandemic plan and conducted pandemic exercises as required by federal pandemic funding guidance. However, according to an interagency assessment, on average, states had "many major gaps" in their plans, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recently reported that most states continue to have major gaps in their pandemic plans...

The National Pandemic Implementation Plan contains 324 action items related to these requirements, responsibilities, and expectations, most of which are to be completed before or by May 2009. HSC [Homeland Security Council] publicly reported on the status of the action items that were to be completed by 6 months, 1 year and 2 years in December 2006, July 2007, and October 2008 respectively. HSC indicated in its October 2008 progress report that 75 percent of the action items have been completed. As previously mentioned, we have ongoing work assessing the status of implementing this plan...

However, an HHS-led interagency assessment of states' plans found on average that states had "many major gaps" in their influenza pandemic plans in 16 of 22 priority areas, such as school closure policies and community containment, which are community-level interventions designed to reduce the transmission of a pandemic virus. The remaining 6 priority areas were rated as having "a few major gaps." Since we issued our report in June 2008, HHS led another interagency assessment of state influenza pandemic plans. HHS reported in January 2009 that, based on this assessment, although states have made important progress toward preparing for combating an influenza pandemic, most states still have major gaps in their pandemic plans.

The progress in completing the National Pandemic Implementation Plan was determined by the Department of Homeland Security, and Steinhardt said that the GAO is making its own determination as to how many of the plan's items have been completed.

Steinhardt emphasized that the government agencies agreed with all of the GAO recommendations and said that much progress has been made.

"We're in better shape than we would have been if this had happened four years ago. There has been a lot of planning."

Read the full report:

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