Homeland Security Issues Take Center Stage at Health Policy Institute

Posted: June 10, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Amy Biderman

The United States is facing an “existential” fight in the war on terrorism, according to a military strategy expert speaking at this week’s Washington Health Policy Institute. “The global war on terrorism is not about what we do; it’s about who we are,” said Ilana Kass, professor of military strategy and operations at the National War College. “We are not at war with Islam, but radical elements in the Muslim world are at war with us. They hate us for who are and what we stand for—the beacon of democracy, freedom, and modernity.”

Kass’s remarks were part of a session on homeland security at this year’s institute, sponsored by the Center for Health Policy, Research, and Ethics in the College of Nursing and Health Science. She emphasized that America’s elected officials should be “clear and candid” in saying the war against terrorism is going to take a long time. “It is difficult to sustain a national commitment if you can’t explain who the enemy is and what we’re fighting against.”

Sounding an optimistic note, Kass said the United States ultimately will win the war. “We can’t afford to lose. This is a war of necessity—what’s at stake is everything we are.”

Regarding U.S. preparedness for a biological attack, Ken Alibek, director of George Mason’s Center for Biodefense, cautioned that there is limited knowledge about the types of biological—or “mass casualty”—weapons. With 3,000 viruses, thousands of bacterial agents, and hundreds of toxins, the United States must determine “the most important pathogens and agents and develop a general protection approach,” he said. “In many cases, we don’t know how to treat the diseases. Patients must be treated early, or the probability of survival is zero.”

At the same time, Alibek emphasized that the United States has made “tremendous strides” in providing effective medical defense against biological weapons. “The situation is better than it was five years ago,” he said. “The glass is half full.”

Related discussions featuring representatives from the American Red Cross, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the U.S. Public Health Service focused on how the respective agencies have changed since Sept. 11, 2001, and how they are preparing for potential attacks in the United States. All of the agencies are developing and implementing plans to ensure the health care system can adequately respond to a surge in capacity at hospitals and emergency care centers in the event of a bioterrorist attack or other public health crisis.

The institute, which continues through tomorrow at George Mason’s Arlington Campus, offers a state-of-the-art overview of the health policy-making process, the players, and current and emerging health policy issues. Other sessions at this year’s conference address current legislative concerns for the health community, the media’s influence on policy and politics, the future of the health care workforce, and the presidential candidates’ differences on health care reform.

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