Kathleen Sebelius, sworn in as U.S. Health and Human Services secretary April 29, 2009

Sebelius Releases National Health Security Strategy

The document lays out a four-year strategy to protect public health during a large-scale emergency, such as the H1N1 pandemic. Solutions will be sought for predicted shortages of nurses, epidemiologists, and laboratory personnel.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a National Health Security Strategy this week, calling it the first U.S. comprehensive strategy for protecting public health during a large emergency, such as the H1N1 influenza pandemic. The strategy sets priorities for government and non-government activities during the next four years, with its interim implementation guide listing actions to be taken in the next nine months.

Solutions will be sought for predicted shortages of nurses, epidemiologists, and laboratory personnel. The guide says the workforce for national health security includes employees in public health, health care, homeland security, pre-hospital emergency medical systems, and volunteers, with public health and health care shortages projected to worsen over time. The HHS assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response will be charged with reviewing research on this workforce and planning for a more comprehensive study in the future.

“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,” Sebelius said. “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. 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. 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 guide lists these 10 objectives to achieve health security:

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, health care 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

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