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Health cuts raise worry

Some wonder if Georgia will be ready when the next outbreak occurs.

May 10, 2009
by Alan Judd
Atlanta Journal Constitution

For Georgia and other states, preparation for a public health emergency became imperative after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the anthrax scare that occurred the same fall. Public health spending across the nation spiked. But as fears shifted to avian flu and other potential pandemics, governments began shifting resources to other priorities.

As a result, thousands of public health jobs have been eliminated, said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the nonprofit Trust for America's Health.

"The system is not overburdened yet," Levi said. "The big question is what happens when more and more cases are suspected, and more and more lab tests are necessary, and more and more work needs to be done in the community to educate people on how to protect themselves."

Georgia ranks 39th among the states in spending per resident on public health programs: $18.33, compared with the national median of $33.71, according to a report that Levi's organization released in 2008.

Legislators appropriated $175 million, including federal grants, for public health in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2008. The figure for the current fiscal year is $191 million. Neighboring Alabama, for one, spends almost $100 million a year more.

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