U.S. Biodefense, Preparedness, and Implications of Antimicrobial Resistance for National Security
The Subcommittee will evaluate the readiness of the U.S. government and healthcare system, including hospitals and emergency professionals, to respond to naturally-occurring pandemics and biological attacks that could be perpetrated by state and non-state actors.
The Subcommittee will also investigate the growing threat of antimicrobial-resistance, as well as the implications of this challenge for U.S. national security.
Innovations in biotechnology, such as synthetic biology and gene-editing techniques, have the potential for incredible public health benefits. However, adversaries can also use these “dual-use” technologies to inflict harm through advanced biological weapons and genetically-modified diseases.
Non-state actors, including terrorist groups, have actively pursued biological weapons and other forms of weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. national security and biodefense capabilities are also threatened by the growing challenge of antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) diseases. An April 2019 report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations estimated that drug-resistant diseases cause at least 700,000 deaths globally each year, “a figure that could increase to 10 million deaths per year by 2050.”
Despite directives and strategies from Congress and multiple Administrations, gaps remain in U.S. biodefense capabilities, response, and preparedness. The Trump Administration is reportedly attempting to replace BioWatch with a new system, known as BioDetection 21. However, this new system “also has severe shortcomings,” and DHS scientific staff reportedly warned that the BioDetection 21 system “frequently can’t distinguish between deadly pathogens and airborne pollen or paper dust, increasing the likelihood of false alarms.”
Public health officials have identified three key measures needed to curtail the spread of antibiotic resistance: infection control and prevention, improved stewardship and reduced use of antibiotics, and development of new antibiotics. However, the pipeline for new antibiotics has been strained by a lack of commercial development as pharmaceutical manufacturers divest from the market.
Dr. Helen Boucher
Director, Tufts Center for Integrated Management of Antimicrobial Resistance
Tufts Medical Center
Mr. Chris Currie
Director, Emergency Management, Disaster Recovery & DHS Management Issues
Homeland Security and Justice Team, U.S. GAO
Dr. Cham Dallas
University Professor and Director, Institute for Disaster Management
University of Michigan
Dr. Asha George
Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense