The National Strategy for Combatting Biological Threats and National Strategy for Biosurveillance represent important policy that every institution involved in biodefense and public health should be familiar with.
While TMG Biosciences is a technical biosurveillance consulting group rather than a political and/or policy shop, it was interesting to us when the National Strategy for Combatting Biological Threats was published by the White House in 2009, signaling a significant shift in how the US Government viewed biodefense, public health, and related issues.
Two major points made in this document are worth noting. First, there is no distinction between biodefense and public health, between environmental monitoring and clinical testing, or between “biothreat agents” (Anthrax and the like) and just plain old pathogenic organisms such as Influenza and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This is a contentious position to take, as all of these areas have in the past been fenced off for separate pots of funding supervised by different government agencies in an isolated, non-competitive manner. It is, however, a step forward from an organizational standpoint and should foster greater cooperation between government agencies and make better use of the limited funding available.
The second point of interest lies in what is not said. Nowhere in this document is a specific agency such as HHS, DoD, or CDC called out by name as being the lead in such activities. This is remarkable, and again brings the benefit of forcing cooperation at the agency level. It is also an explicit acknowledgement that many agencies, academic institutions, NGOs, and private concerns have unique contributions to make. This makes the biosurveillance game a more competitive and at least theoretically a more efficient enterprise if broad-based cooperation really does emerge.
While the National Strategy for Combatting Biological Threats is a broad policy document, the National Strategy for Biosurveillance published in July 2012 is a call to arms mandating specific implementation plans within 120 days of its release. This is almost certainly an improbably goal unless such plans are already in place. It is to be hoped that individual plans by each agency will be integrated across the entire US Government, or at least that leadership at the highest levels will force such integration and teamwork. To put it mildly, there has been a noticeable lack of active and open cooperation across the different agencies, and often between groups in the same agency. Routine sharing of materials, data, and costs will have an immediate and substantial benefit to our operational posture for fighting the bugs.