HHS updates medical countermeasures strategy

Jun 27, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently updated its strategy for developing and acquiring countermeasures against threats such as bioterror attacks and pandemic flu, a document that spells out the federal game plan for the next 5 years.

HHS posted the 38-page document, titled the 2012 Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE) Strategy, on its Web site on Jun 20 in advance of a related implementation plan that it will unveil later this summer.

HHS established PHEMCE in July 2006 to coordinate federal medical countermeasures efforts, under the leadership of the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). PHEMCE is charged with updating its countermeasures strategy and implementation plan every 5 years or as needed, according to the report.

PHEMCE's first countermeasures strategy, released in 2007, covered only chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons threats, but the updated version has a broader scope that includes pandemic influenza and other emerging infectious diseases. The report said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is implementing a 5-year budget planning process to ensure that the strategy aligns with other public health emergency preparedness priorities.

Seven new critical countermeasures, addressing threats such as anthrax, smallpox, and botulinum toxin, have been delivered to the Strategic National Stockpile since PHEMCE's last strategy and implementation plan (2007), according to the report. It said public health events such as the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and the Fukushima nuclear plant incident and planning exercises such as a recent national anthrax attack tabletop have yielded important lessons as PHEMCE has reassessed its countermeasure strategies.

PHEMCE's core principles are to limit adverse health impacts and be a good steward of taxpayer resources, the report said. Criteria used to prioritize investments will include a focus on the most significant threats, approaches that are multifunctional, and products that ease operations and dispensing.

The strategy details four main goals, breaking each down into several specific objectives. The goals are to:

Identify, create, develop, manufacture, and procure critical medical countermeasures; for example, developing multiuse therapeutics and diagnostics that might be commercially viable and be used in routine medical and public health applications

Establish and communicate clear pathways to facilitate countermeasure development and use; for example, addressing gaps in regulatory science

Develop logistics and plans to optimize countermeasure use across all levels of response; for example, promoting new inventory management approaches

Address countermeasure gaps across all American population sectors; for example, making sure at-risk groups have equal access to medical countermeasures and ensuring that medical countermeasures are specifically formulated for these groups

The forthcoming PHEMCE implementation plan will spell out how programs and initiatives will be prioritized. \"Both documents together constitute the blueprints the PHEMCE will follow in the near-, mid-, and long-terms to make the best use of available resources to contribute to national health security,\" the report states.

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