HHS unveils nation's first health security strategy

By Bernie Monegain
01:19 PM

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has unveiled The National Health Security Strategy, focused on protecting people's health during a large-scale emergency.

Sebelius said the "comprehensive" document, the first for the nation, 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," Sshe 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."

National health security focuses on preparing for health threats or incidents with potentially negative health consequences, such as bioterrorism and natural disasters. The strategy provides a framework for actions designed to build community resilience, strengthen and sustain health emergency response systems and fill  gaps in healthcare delivery.

"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," Sebelius said.

The National Health Security Strategy and an accompanying interim implementation guide outline 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 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 prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from health threats.

Those actions include conducting a review to improve the system for developing and delivering countermeasures such as 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. To determine additional issues and themes the strategy should address, the HHS solicited input from non-federal participants during six regional workshops. HHS officials also worked with the Institute of Medicine to engage the medical community.

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