Public health and LGBTQI+ advocacy groups say the nation is still not prepared for the next outbreak
A coalition of leading public health organizations on Tuesday praised the administration’s response to the smallpox outbreak, but raised red flags about the country’s continued “lack of preparedness” to respond quickly to health threats or emergencies.
In a letter to President Biden sent as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) public health emergency expired, the National Mpox Working Group outlined the administration’s successes and shortcomings in its handling of the smallpox outbreak and made recommendations for building a more robust public health system capable of responding to emergencies. .
More than 30,000 cases of smallpox — the disease formerly known as monkeypox — have been reported nationwide since May, when the first known case in the United States was cataloged, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Since its creation in June, the National Mpox Action Group has served to inform policy decisions made by the White House and Congress regarding the outbreak.
In its Tuesday letter, the working group commended the Biden administration for strengthening interagency collaboration and communication to successfully contain the spread of smallpox, but added that the letter was sent primarily “to express our concern about the nation’s preparedness for future infectious disease outbreaks.”
The letter came from the Working Group, a partnership of nearly two dozen public health, medical, and LGBTQ advocacy organizations including United AIDS and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Among other preventive measures, the administration should prioritize public health interventions that resolve racial and geographic health inequities at the onset of emergencies, “rather than addressing them after they have already occurred or become well-established.”
Multiple investigations of the spread of smallpox in the United States have found stark disparities in infection rates between Black Americans and Hispanic Americans, who account for a disproportionate proportion of cases relative to their share of the population.
a CDC report published earlier this month found that among reported cases of smallpox among cisgender women, black and Hispanic women were disproportionately represented. Overall, the outbreak has greatly affected MSM.
The National Anti-Mpox Working Group on Tuesday also stressed the need for a federal financial support plan that includes increased investment in the nation’s public health system.
“Anything less than that sets a worrying precedent for what we can expect in the next public health crisis,” the coalition wrote. The letter said more federal funding should also be diverted to community-based programs such as local STD clinics — many of which have exhausted their own budgets to test, treat and vaccinate their communities for smallpox.
“Too many people have suffered unnecessarily, and the frontline organizations responding to this outbreak have exhausted their limited funds to provide information, health care, and support to their communities — only to see the White House reduce its critical needs request to Congress,” the groups wrote.
“This lack of support on behalf of America’s public health system undermines the very real needs of those working in this field at a time when capabilities and resources are on the brink. We are disappointed that they have not had the appropriate, strong, and tangible White House support that they need.”