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Fighting Superbugs: Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Military's Efforts to Prevent Outbreaks of Multidrug-Resistant Infections in Military Hospitals

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Location: Washington, DC

On Wednesday, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) and Ranking Member Rob Wittman (R-Va.) convened a hearing to receive testimony from Department of Defense officials on their efforts to monitor and control outbreaks of multidrug-resistant infections which first emerged early on during military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"While the military has provided high quality medical care for combat casualties, many personnel unexpectedly developed harmful infections caused by Acinetobacter and other multidrug-resistant bacteria," said Chairman Snyder. "The outbreaks created challenges for the military and it took time to bring the infections under control. The number of infections is now significantly lower because the Department and military services strengthened infection surveillance, control, and prevention in military hospitals. However, the infection problem has not been completely solved and new outbreaks will be a continuing risk. There is a need for better capabilities to monitor infections and enhanced training and expertise in infection control. While the Department has invested in research to improve clinical practices, I remain concerned that there is a lack of effective drugs to combat these infections. The incidence of drug-resistant infections is a national and global problem that has grown dramatically over the past decade in civilian hospitals, and health experts warn that the problem could get worse in the next several years, because there are few new antibiotic treatments expected from the drug research pipeline. DOD and the services must remain vigilant in their efforts to monitor and prevent these infections."

Ranking Member Wittman said, "Infection control is particularly difficult in a deployed setting with limited supplies, limited access to fresh water, and the necessity of handling potentially large numbers of casualties who've been living in a field environment. I traveled last spring to Afghanistan, and was covered in dust after a single day of moving about Kandahar Province. I can only imagine the condition of troops living in the field for months at a time. Infection control in such conditions must be daunting. While we acknowledge the progress that the military has made in this area, improvements can be made in enforcing infection control protocols; in reporting mechanisms; and in research for both better treatment and better control procedures."

Witnesses at today's hearing included Dr. Jack Smith, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Clinical and Program Policy; Colonel Duane Hospenthal, Infectious Disease Consultant to the Army Surgeon General and Chief of the Infectious Disease Service at Brooke Army Medical Center; Colonel Jonathan Jaffin, Director of Health Policy and Services, Office of the Army Surgeon General; Colonel James D. Collier, Assistant Air Force Surgeon General for Health Care Operations; Lieutenant Colonel Michael Forgione, Infectious Disease Consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General and Chief of Medicine at Keesler Air Force Medical Center; Captain Gregory Martin, Infectious Disease Consultant to the Navy Surgeon General and Program Director of the Infectious Disease Clinical Research Program at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; and Ms. Judith F. English, Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery Infection Control Consultant.

The witnesses discussed how the Department of Defense has responded to outbreaks of multidrug-resistant infections in military treatment facilities over the past several years, and whether effective surveillance, prevention, and research programs are in place to manage this challenge in the future.


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