U.S. Senators Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln and U.S. Representatives Marion Berry (AR-01), Vic Snyder (AR-02) and Mike Ross (AR-04) today announced that the Arkansas Department of Health will receive a $502,594 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant to hire four new workers and purchase laboratory equipment that will help identify and control diseases in Arkansas.
Funds will be used to purchase a genetic analyzer and supporting laboratory equipment that will enable researchers at the Arkansas Department of Health to better track food-borne illnesses, communicable diseases and vaccine-preventable diseases. The new equipment will allow the department's epidemiology staff to identify the genetic makeup of organisms that cause diseases and illnesses so they can respond to outbreaks more quickly.
The Arkansas Department of Health will also use these funds to hire several new personnel: an epidemiologist, who will study the frequency and distribution of public health threats; a molecular biologist, who will analyze specimens in the lab; a data exchange coordinator, who will help run the computer system that researchers use to detect disease patterns; and a part-time program coordinator, who will work with different epidemiology teams to help staff meet their objectives. The new personnel will allow the department to more effectively investigate and alert the public about threats to public health, including notifications to schools, workplaces, grocery stores and restaurants.
"This funding will enhance the ability of researchers and other professionals at the Arkansas Department of Health to protect Arkansans by quickly and effectively addressing diseases and food-borne illnesses," Lincoln said. "Our nation's food supply must be safe for all consumers, and I will continue working to ensure that Arkansas's public health agencies have the resources and skills to protect what we eat from disease and contamination."
"Arkansans should be able to be confident that the food they serve their families is safe," Pryor said. "This grant will give the Arkansas Department of Health the resources they need to track food-borne illnesses and respond to outbreaks when they occur, keeping our communities healthy."
"Food safety and disease prevention are of the utmost importance to the health and well-being of our country as well as the global community," Berry said. "Enabling the Arkansas Department of Health to better track and identify the causes of diseases and illnesses is a good use of funding that is essential in controlling an outbreak quickly and effectively."
"Research is essential to the effective prevention and treatment of disease," Snyder said. "With these funds, the Health Department will be able to add personnel and equipment to help with the early identification of potential public health threats in Arkansas."
"Every year Americans fall victim to an estimated 76 million cases of food-borne illness," Ross said. "While a great number of these are considered "mild' by medical standards, many require hospitalization and some result in death. Because of the risks involved, it is essential that we provide our state and local health care providers with the necessary resources to combat these illnesses."
"Across the country and here in Arkansas we've been doing a good job of tracking food-borne illnesses over the last few years, but this grant will allow us to be better and faster. The equipment the grant provides can help us identify the DNA "fingerprint' that can tell us which organism is actually responsible for an outbreak of illness. That will help us prevent illness in a much more timely way than we've ever done before," said Nathaniel Smith, MD, Deputy Director for Public Health Programs and State Epidemiologist.