Frist says education is key to fighting bioterrorism

From Staff Reports

   Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) announced plans Thursday to prepare public health professionals for the defense against terrorism by including bioterrorism training in medical school curricula. He said that continuing education for practicing health care professionals is also necessary.
   Frist said that he is joined in his efforts by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and representatives from a wide range of health care organizations, including the American Association of Medical Colleges, the American Medical Association, and others who have pledged to work together to prepare against bioterrorist attacks.
   Frist said that while the public health infrastructure is prepared to respond to terrorist attacks that lead to mass casualties, "It is not fully prepared to deal with biological terrorist attacks."
   In an effort to address gaps in the defense against bioterrorism, Frist wrote to the deans of all 125 medical colleges across the country and to various other organizations of health professionals.
   In that letter Frist said: "Because many biological agents are communicable, millions of individuals, including health care workers, could be infected before an agent is identified. By the time a diagnosis is made, the devastating biological time bomb could be set. Lost time would mean lost lives.
   "For the sake of patients and clinicians, we must ensure that all health professionals are properly trained to diagnose the victims of bioterrorism rapidly and accurately, contain the spread of the disease, and appropriately assist as health care facilities face an upsurge of patients seeking medical care."
   Frist said that the "Public Health Threats and Emergencies Act," which provides measures for "strengthening the capability of local physicians and hospitals to respond to a bioterrorist attack," remains underfunded. Frist said that he and Kennedy will continue to push for funding even as they work on further legislation to address bioterrorism.
   "Today's efforts are a down payment toward assuring that our nation is prepared for any future threat," Frist said.
   Frist's statement came as President Bush appeared ready to reverse his July decision to reject international enforcement of a 1972 biological arms treaty. Bush will attend an international discussion in Geneva on Nov. 19.