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Tulane Receives Funding To Fight Bioterrorism

March 17, 2002

Rob Bryant, <i>Hullabaloo</i> Contributing Writer

hullabaloo.main@tulane.org

The Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine is one of 15 research centers receiving a grant from the Centers for Disease Control, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, to research bioterrorism.

Tulane will use this money to fund the South Central Center for Public Health Awareness, which will train public health professionals in the state public health agencies. The center has partners in the offices of public health in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. The grant was approved two years ago, but the funding is only now seeing light.

"We're somewhat prepared for the risks that we face, and we're even more so than we were two or three months ago," Dr. Anne Anderson, acting dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said. "I think the main difference is now ... Congress is finally understanding that developing the public health infrastructure is crucial, not only for dealing with bioterrorism, but for dealing with everyday public health issues. So, by spending money on developing infrastructure for bioterrorism, we're also developing the public health infrastructure for all public health issues."

Anderson feels that the funding was probably hastened by the events on Sept. 11 and attacks with anthrax. The center will focus on both biological threats and chemical. Threats of industrial terrorism, such as planes crashing into chemical or nuclear plants and nerve gas, seem to present a greater risk than infectious agents such as anthrax and smallpox.

This risk is even higher in Louisiana due to the large number of chemical plants that exist here. Anderson is uncertain how much money the school will receive from this grant.

"This is sort of a strange situation because we do not have notice of a grant award yet. We don't really know what we're going to get. The press announcement from Washington said $15 million for 15 centers, so we assume it's a million dollars. But we don't know if it's a million dollars for one year, a million dollars over three years, a million dollars a year for three years."

Anderson did not know when the amount of funding would be announced. This grant will further the efforts Tulane has already made to serve as an information resource on bioterrorism. The first Presidential Symposium, titled, "Bioterrorism, What You Need to Know," was held Nov. 8 to share the faculty's expertise on the subject with the campus and Greater New Orleans communities.

Tulane has hosted nine meetings on the subject since that date, and has discussed its role in preparing against bioterrorism with the Louisiana State Legislature and other state agencies. In addition, the School is also offering a 600-level course entitled "Terrorism: a Public Health Challenge," with a combined enrollment of medical and graduate school students.

Dr. William R. Hartley, designer and organizer of the course, brings different experts to lecture the class throughout the semester in order to present information from the various fields of terrorism. Hartley said the national public health infrastructure has been neglected for many years.

"The events of Sept. 11 and the anthrax threat only highlighted nationwide deficiencies in security and public health," Hartley said. He described his course as a means to "integrate public health research and practice with current and emerging biological and chemical terrorism concerns."

"We anticipate additional funding in other areas relevent to bioterrorism prevention and global health security in due course," Dr. Paul Whelton, senior vice president for the Health Sciences, said. "We feel there are a number of ways in which Tulane can play an even greater national and regional leadership role in the common goal to enhance health security. This involves partnerships with the state Office of Public Health and close cooperation with federal funding agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health."

"At last people understand what public health is for," Anderson said. The School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine has posted a bioterrorism information website on its homepage at http://www.sph.tulane.edu/.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 website@tulane.edu