This post originally ran on NACCHO’s Healthy People, Healthy Places blog. For more environmental health news and information, visit http://essentialelements.naccho.org/.
As the nation mobilizes for a looming Zika threat, state and local health departments (LHDs) are losing the resources they need to effectively respond to Zika and other emergencies at the community level. In March, after Congress failed to pass emergency funding for Zika requested by President Obama, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) redirected $44.25 million of Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) funds away from local and state health departments to support the national Zika response. In an effort to determine how health departments and local communities will fare without these funds, NACCHO partnered with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO),Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, and Association of Public Health Laboratories to conduct an impact assessment survey. The four organizations released complementary reports todayillustrating respective state and local impacts.
While some uncertainty exists around the full scope of the reprogramming’s impacts, a large contingent of LHD officials participating in the survey expressed concern regarding PHEP funding cuts. In fact, approximately half of the LHD survey respondents predicted these cuts would have at least some or even a significant impact on their LHD’s capacity to respond to Zika and other emergency efforts.
“Public health depends on grants to sustain activities. If grants are cut, that activity goes away,” noted one survey respondent. “I can’t imagine anyone thinking that funding for preparation, mitigation, response, and recovery to a public health emergency can be cut. This puts our entire population at risk.”
For some LHDs, responding to Zika cases and other public health threats is already challenging due to existing staffing and budgetary constraints. The reprogramming of PHEP funds only compounds this issue and weakens LHD capabilities and activities such as community preparedness and pre-event readiness. More specifically, survey respondents identified several common concerns that highlight how these capabilities and activities are currently affected, including:
- Decreased personnel sustainability (i.e., staffing, volunteers, and Medical Reserve Corps);
- Reduced opportunities to provide staff trainings and plan and conduct exercises; and
- Inability to conduct surveillance or epidemiological investigations.
“[D]ecreasing our funding is leaving us, as well as many other PHEP agencies, in a very vulnerable position,” said another survey respondent. “How can we respond adequately when we only have limited or no money for supplies, training, exercises or personnel?”
Although the answer to that question is uncertain, results from this survey make one factor very clear: redirecting PHEP funds directly diminishes LHD capacity to prepare for and respond to Zika and other emerging threats in the communities they serve.
So what can LHDs do?
- Educate policymakers! Let elected officials know what your local health department is doing to prepare for emergencies, including Zika, and how critical federal funds are to these efforts.
- Partner up! Reach out to your state health department to check for partnership or pass-through funding opportunities.
- Tweet or Facebook about it! Use the hashtags #Zika and #KeepPHEPLocal to share why local health departments need PHEP funding to respond to public health threats like Zika. Here are some sample posts you can use:
- #LHDs in [your state] need #PHEP funds to protect communities from threats like #Zika! Here’s why: wp.me/p6e3WP-QV. #KeepPHEPLocal
- #Breaking Report: Using #PHEP funds for national #Zika response puts #LHDs at risk http://ow.ly/dX5J300fUAY #KeepPHEPLocal
For more detailed information on the impact assessment methodology, respondent demographics, and findings, read the reports here. To learn more about how NACCHO supports preparedness among LHDs,visit our website.