An Afternoon with ASPR Discussing Health Security Priorities

An Afternoon with ASPR Discussing Health Security Priorities

May 7, 2018

A version of this post originally appeared in The Pandora Report. View it here.

As Healthcare Ready continues to enhance its efforts to promote and achieve health preparedness, it is imperative that those of us working within the organization understand how to align closely with offices such as the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), which helps set health security priorities for the Department of Health and Human Services. Staying current on the directions of the administration helps our organization to operate on the cutting edge of health security. This insight allows us to provide solutions which cultivate unique partnerships between pharmaceutical supply chains, healthcare providers, and the government in support of community-wide initiatives which strengthen resilience to public health emergencies and disasters.

On April 13th, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine held another event in a monthly series on biological, chemical and health security issues.  This luncheon – consisting of an open forum session with a two-member panel and a moderator – featured Dr. George W. Korch, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and Dr. Dana Perkins, a Senior Science Advisor, both from ASPR. Drawing from their current roles within ASPR as well as their illustrious careers and vast experiences, the two presenters made for a compelling afternoon discussing health security issues and the work being done by ASPR to prepare for and address them. As a new addition to the Healthcare Ready team, attending this talk was beneficial for myself in that it helped me understand the guiding factors which direct our work as an organization helping to cultivate interdisciplinary cooperation.

Dr. Korch spoke first, providing a brief overview and background on ASPR – essentially highlighting that two events, the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act and the terrorist attacks of September 11th, were the impetus for the creation of the modern day ASPR. He asserted that the ASPR of the future will be as, if not more, important as it was, and it is important for them to continue their mission.

He then touched on the (rapidly) changing climate of health security and how new issues like cybersecurity and various political developments including the use of chemical gas in Syria and the volatile nuclear situation in North Korea can and often do muddy the waters for the direction of ASPR. Dr. Korch highlighted the current ASPR priorities; reorganization of the office for the new path forward, reauthorization of the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA), preparing for large-scale response needs, and modernizing the National Disaster Medical System. These priorities are reflected in the projects I support including the strengthening of the pharmaceutical supply chain for ensuring continuity of drug delivery during disasters, in addition to helping to increase community readiness through the implementation of modern resilience programs.

Of these, he highlighted the latter two as his “favorites” for the title of most important priority to address. In the face of large-scale health threats – Dr. Korch made a brief remark on this year being the 100th anniversary of the Spanish Flu, and the ever-increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance – as well as frequency of weather and natural disasters, Korch made it clear that the national preparedness tasks are at the forefront of ASPR’s to-do list heading into the future. He also emphasized that he wishes ASPR to adopt a more broad-spectrum approach considering the whole of a pathogen and its ecosystem, a term he dubbed the “interactome.” Interactome science, Korch said, is the future of research and development which will provide us the knowledge and tools for developing more effective prevention and response countermeasures.

Dr. Korch then turned the floor over to Dr. Perkins, who addressed the role of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), Federal Experts Security Advisory Panel (FESAP), and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) in supporting the existing ASPR priorities as well as the new ones which Dr. Korch presented. Speaking for a much briefer period than Korch, Dr. Perkins highlighted two main points. First, she described the desire of BARDA to develop “very far forward” diagnostics, such as wearable devices for health data mining. Second, she emphasized the importance of oversight initiatives like FESAP, which, in response to 2014 – a year which “consisted of a series of lapses in Federal lab safety” – led to the creation of many working groups, which are actively identifying and addressing these issues and providing recommendations for mitigation going forward.

The session concluded with a brief question and answer session, before both speakers reiterated their faith in the mission of ASPR and the belief that they’ve set achievable, relevant priorities. Indeed, it is paramount for all of us working in the dynamic space of health preparedness to set priorities which account for the many moving parts and vast complexities involved in strengthening our readiness to respond to health security crises.

Anthony Falzarano

Anthony Falzarano is a Research Fellow at Healthcare Ready and is pursuing a masters degree in biodefense at George Mason University.