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Public Health

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Location: Washington, DC


PUBLIC HEALTH -- (House of Representatives - July 12, 2005)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. DeFazio) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to talk on a subject which is not often addressed on the floor of the House, which is public health, particularly public health as relates to threats of bioterrorism or naturally occurring events.

Today, and I am a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, we had some rather disturbing revelations of the lack of progress with Operation BioShield, which seems to have done more to enhance the profits of the pharmaceutical industry, to engage in some exotic forms of research, to ignore some off-the-shelf remedies which could deal with very real and horrible threats, such as the potential for a nuclear device that could deal with the radiological aftermath and things of that nature.

Now, the Committee on Homeland Security will continue to investigate those areas and deliberate in those areas, and that is good, because we need to improve how we target those funds, how they are spent, and how we assess the threats to the people of the United States. More than $12 billion was spent on smallpox and anthrax, the anthrax attack apparently perpetuated by somebody who perhaps stole that from Ft. Detrick, Maryland; and smallpox, of course, is not yet known to be a threat.

The administration, however, has ignored a very real threat to the American people. Many of us experienced the fact that last year there was not enough flu vaccine, because we have left it to the private sector, free markets, and competition to provide flu vaccine; and it is not working real well. This is not the first shortage in recent years, not the first series of price gouging for vulnerable people. It has become recurrent year after year.

Last year, I did not get a flu shot, as many other Americans did not, in order to give up our doses for those who might be more at risk.

The system is broken. We can only hope that the Bush administration will begin to take more definitive action and introduce legislation along those lines.

But even more threatening than the annual flu occurrence is the prospect of H5N1, the avian flu virus, mutating and becoming the next pandemic attacking people around the world. It is estimated that 30 to 70 million people could die, many here in the United States, similar to the 1917, I believe, epidemic.

The Bush administration has been charged, granted we have known about H5N1 for quite some time, and the Clinton administration did very little in this area, so there is blame to go around. But it has become more persistently reported. It has reached more epidemic proportions. There have been more human infections, more reports of possible human infections being concealed by the Chinese communist government, as they often do in these matters. And the Bush administration in the last year spent a total of $110.3 million, $70.5 million for vaccines, and $15.6 million for antiviral drugs. Despite the fact that the World Health Organization tells us we should be stockpiling these drugs, the Bush administration is not stockpiling these drugs.

Mr. Speaker, $15.6 million for antiviral drugs. That is less than half of what they spent on adolescent family life prevention projects. They spent nearly twice as much money on abstinence-only education money in America as on all flu vaccine spending.

A looming pandemic, and the Bush administration and Health and Human Services are off worried about abstinence-only education, as opposed to an extraordinary threat to millions of Americans.

This could become an incredible problem as early as this year, but this administration seems determined to just bumble along until the time when the pandemic begins, and then it will be too late. There is only one producer overseas. Other nations have lined up to buy their production. The United States of America has not. The pharmacies will run out quickly. We do not have adequate hospital surge capacity. We are vulnerable in so many ways, but the Bush administration thinks it is more important to spend money on abstinence-only education than preserving the health of the American people in the face of these deadly threats.

Hopefully they will begin to do better, and, if they cannot, perhaps the Republican leadership in Congress will allow us to move legislation that will force them to do better in the future to protect the American people.

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