Emerging and evolving threats like Ebola and Zika continue to demonstrate how infectious disease transcends jurisdictional boundaries, organizational silos, and job descriptions. In response to this reality, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is joining a diverse group of stakeholders across the state to enhance preparedness for high-consequence infectious diseases. From McAllen to El Paso, the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Section of DSHS is offering regional workshops to deliver in-depth information, review strategies, assess levels of preparedness and response, and identify gaps and challenges related to community readiness. Each three-day workshop features experts from DSHS; academic institutions; federal agencies; city and county health departments; hospitals; and fire, emergency medical services, and emergency management.
Launched in December 2015 and ending in June 2016, the workshop series draws on local participation to further increase the knowledge of public health and medical responders in each region. Presentations provide an in-depth analysis of previous regional and state preparedness and response efforts for high-consequence infectious diseases, or diseases that spread or have the potential to spread rapidly through a population. Providing a forum for professionals across the preparedness and response spectrum is not only a vehicle for workforce development, but also a vital opportunity to connect individuals and organizations who may not otherwise meet on a daily basis. Developing these relationships will help ensure effective and efficient communication and coordination during an emergency.
Wendy Chung, Chief Epidemiologist for Dallas County Health and Human Services, spoke about the health department’s own experiences with high-consequence infectious diseases. As the lead epidemiologist in the response to the Dallas Ebola incident, she highlighted that increasing outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases are the “new normal” for which communities should anticipate and prepare. This reflection, and a need for better multi-disciplinary, “systems solution” response approaches, is the impetus for DSHS and its partners to foster a culture of constant readiness for high-consequence infectious disease crises.
Anil Mangla, Assistant Director and Chief Epidemiologist of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, emphasized the crucial role of local health authorities in high-consequence infectious diseases. Through identifying, testing, responding to, and monitoring infectious diseases, local health departments serve as the frontline responders to protect people in their communities from outbreaks and other emergencies. For example, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District is coordinating the testing and follow up of cases of possible Zika infection. They are also providing updates and the latest information for prevention and protection against the virus for the local communities.
In conjunction with local health departments’ everyday efforts, collaborative and proactive approaches like the Texas regional workshops are essential to preparing for, responding to, containing, and recovering from threats posed by high consequence infectious diseases. Whether manmade or of Mother Nature, emergencies and disasters will continue to challenge the public health system’s ability to prepare and respond. Strengthening the infrastructure and the workforce that support this system will be necessary to mobilize for the next high-consequence infectious disease.
Learn more about DSHS’ High Consequence Infectious Disease Response workshops and read how NACCHO is supporting local health departments’ work in preventing and controlling infectious diseases in their communities.