HHS unveils National Health Security Strategy

WASHINGTON HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Thursday released The National Health Security Strategy, the nation’s first comprehensive strategy focused on protecting people’s health during a large-scale emergency. The strategy sets priorities for government and nongovernment 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," Sebelius stated. "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."

Among the initial actions, the federal government is conducting a review to improve 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.

While the document does not specifically identify retail pharmacy as a healthcare resource in an emergency, Sebelius does call on local and state governments to incorporate the input and capabilities of the private sector into their overall emergency planning.

"The range of those participating and working together in these areas [the development of an effective medical countermeasure to a disaster situation] should be broadened beyond the federal government to include ... pharmaceutical developers and academic researchers, the response community, medical and public health providers, and representatives of both the general public and at-risk individuals," the document read. "Investments should be prioritized to effectively pursue those countermeasures that have the greatest potential to improve national health security, prevent or limit the spread of disease, limit the clinical impact of a health incident and have elements with potential widespread application even in the absence of a catastrophic event."

Pharmacists, along with other healthcare professionals, are considered a key component of the overall public health workforce during a disaster. The document calls on local disaster coordinators to establish a network of emergency-response volunteers "who will be available to supplement the permanent workforce during a health incident; rapidly activate staff and volunteer personnel for emergency duty (e.g., to administer vaccines or medications at point-of-dispensing sites); provide treatment to the ill and injured at first aid stations, mass care centers, temporary clinics and other healthcare sites; provide staffing to EMS agencies; supplement hospital staff; [and] replace personnel who are unable to do their jobs because they themselves are victims of the incident."

"Events which threaten the health of the people of this nation could very easily compromise our national security," Sebelius said. "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."

For a copy of the full report, go to HHS.gov/aspr/opsp/nhss/strategy.html.

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