September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Secretary Thompson Remaks to the American Public Health Association; October 22, 2001

PLACE: The American Public Health Association, Atlanta, Georgia
DATE: October 22, 2001

"Public Health Partnerships: The Key To Fighting Bioterrorism"


Michael Bird, Dr. Akhter, Dr. Brundtland, friends and colleagues:

It's an honor for me to address this very distinguished group. The American Public Health Association is the premier public health organization in our country, and has played an historic role in providing the American people with the highest quality health care in the world.

It's a special honor today however, because I have come to know and work with so many of your members during the past nine months, and especially during the past few weeks.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the women and men participating in these sessions from New York, the Washington, D.C. area - including Virginia and Maryland- and from Pennsylvania and Florida.

We salute each and every one of you for your heroic efforts since September 11th.

In addition, there is another group that I want to thank. Now I might be a little biased, but the folks right here in Atlanta - at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - have performed remarkably since September 11th. I know a number of you are here today, and I want to extend my thanks and the thanks of President Bush for your outstanding efforts.

I wanted to come down here today because I want each and every one of you to know that this administration recognizes the vital role you play. Not only in terms of providing care to virtually every American, but also in terms of responding to these horrific terrorist attacks on our country and our people.

I know that there are a lot of people out there saying that our public health system is not prepared to respond to a major bioterrorist attack. I know that state and local labs out there are feeling overwhelmed right now, responding to people's natural fears about what might be waiting in the mail. I know that people responding to these threats are feeling overburdened.

But we have responded to each and every threat, and we continue and will continue to do so. And you should be proud of how well you have responded to events that two months ago would have been unthinkable.

But our work is just beginning. What we have learned since September 11th is where we need to focus our efforts to make sure we are better prepared to respond tomorrow that we are today.

Together, we need to be prepared for the worst. And together, we need to be prepared to give our best. We need supplies of drugs and vaccines and bandages and many other things … but we also need to offer the calm voice of reassurance to a troubled nation.

To that end, I am here today to ask for your help.

You are the truly the front-line, the first responders. As those people who are out there everyday caring for people, we need your partnership.

Your patients trust you. We need you to educate them. To explain what anthrax is, to explain that it can be treated with antibiotics - and not just Cipro.

The FDA has also officially approved the use of two more antibiotics for the treatment of anthrax, doxycycline and penicillin.

We need your help to explain that anthrax is not contagious, and can't be spread from person to person like a cold.

We also need you to educate the public about the use and misuse of drugs - particularly about potent antibiotics like Cipro. You know as well as I do that unless a physician prescribes Cipro for a specific cause, you're better off without it, because it can have serious side effects and build a tolerance to the medication that could hurt rather than help.

We need you to partner with us at the federal level to educate, reassure, and care for the American public, just as we at the federal level are working to partner with you to ensure that we provide the resources needed to strengthen the public health infrastructure.

You are all doing a tremendous job. But we are working at the federal level, to strengthen that partnership.

Last week, we took the first step to strengthen that partnership. We asked congress for $1.5 billion in emergency funding to respond to bioterrorism.

$175 million of that is specifically to strengthen state and local preparedness. The proposal includes:

  • $50 million to support increased capacity at the nation's hospitals and other health facilities in the event of any incident that could lead to mass casualties;

  • $50 million will bolster the metropolitan medical response system, consisting of federally supported local preparedness efforts in 122 cities this fiscal year, to respond to bioterrorism, especially the public health aspects;

  • $40 million will support early detection surveillance to identify possible bioterrorist agents;

  • $15 million will support increased capacity, up to an additional 45 state and local laboratories;

  • $10 million will increase capacity for CDC and state and local labs to assess exposure to 150 hazardous chemical agents; and $10 million will support other local planning efforts.

  • The President's request also provides substantial funding for the CDC's rapid response and advanced technology labs … epidemiology teams … and 410 new FDA inspectors to help ensure our food is not tainted with biochemical or other agents.

    But that is not all. I am also working with Senators Frist and Kennedy on legislation that will go ever further. We will work to improve your education and training for responding to these types of events.

    We must take this opportunity to do everything we can to improve and strengthen the public health system in this country.

    I am talking about it to the president, to congress, to the nation's governors, and state legislators. And now, I'm here to talk to you about it, and to tell you not to let this opportunity pass you by.

    If you care about the system you work in - and I know that every one of you cares about it passionately - then work with me and your other federal partners to use this time as effectively as possible.

    At HHS we're working vigorously with our federal partners to coordinate our domestic preparedness overall-the departments of defense, justice and veteran's affairs and the federal emergency management agency.

    We've also made great progress in utilizing the expertise, resources and technical support within the federal government. For example, HHS is working with the VA on purchasing drugs to supplement the department's pharmaceutical stockpile. Together, HHS and the VA are building the stockpile effectively.

    Protecting the nation from bioterrorism must be a matter of partnerships. In a profound sense, you are the senior partners in that effort.

    Let me close with some wise words from the author of our declaration of independence, Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Jefferson wrote these comments in a letter to a friend only four years before his own death, and they reflect a lifetime of wisdom distilled into a couple of short lines.

    Here's what he said: "Our part" - the part of public servants and leaders - "is to pursue with steadiness what is right, turning neither to right nor left." In doing so, Mr. Jefferson said, we can be assured that public approval will, as he put it, "in the end be with us."

    That's the great challenge we all face … to move forward, doing what we should, keeping a steady and deliberate course … acting decisively but wisely … and preparing quietly even as we reassure publicly.

    That's a tall order, but that's what leadership truly means.

    It's been a great pleasure being with you. Thank you so very much, and may God bless you, and God bless America.

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