Efforts to advance emergency preparedness through the One Health Act of 2021 rank top among recent public health legislation in the United States. The legislation seeks to establish an interagency program to coordinate emergency responses during health disasters. The Covid-19 pandemic revealed the weak underbelly of health emergency response. The explosion and spread of the pandemic implied that health resources were stretched beyond the limit, with first responders operating at different frequencies. In this regard, this new legislation seeks to synchronize health emergency response in the face of future disasters to prevent exacerbating cases. The bill’s passing will imply that major government agencies, such as CDC, FDA, NIH, and USAID, must adopt one program, federal goals, policies, and priorities to tackle emergencies. Although government agencies have been effective in discharging their mandates, there is a need for new approaches, such as the One Health Act of 2021, to synchronize nationwide health emergency responses during pandemics and bioterrorism disasters.
The existing public health legislations suffer from limitations in addressing pandemics. In their research, Mello and Gostin (2023) opine that the new legislation draws inspiration from the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic to address possible cases of bioterrorism in the future. A notable weakness of the current legislation is that they are too broad to hold specific agencies responsible for handling emergency efforts during pandemics. As a result, emergency responses fall short of public expectations and remain compromised. For this reason, Congress has embarked upon a modernization quest for health emergency response legislation. This effort is boosted by the sizeable number of congress members engaged in advocacy for a unified strategy during response and addressing health emergencies across the nation. Therefore, the One Health Act of 2023 is meant to remedy weaknesses in existing legislation.
As a federal nation, there are always chances that the states and federal legislation might collide. States have the mandate to pass legislation deemed fit for their situation. This provision creates the potential for clashes. The states pass legislation tailored to their specific local needs. Aassve et al. (2021) inform that the last real pandemic was the Spanish flu, which wreaked havoc worldwide due to globalization. The Covid-19 pandemic followed a similar trend. In between the two pandemics, the U.S. healthcare stakeholders did very little to modernize legislations to anticipate new pandemics. To bridge this gap, Congress has made efforts to update these laws to govern the handling of future pandemics and bioterrorism. Hence, the One Health Act was necessary to synchronize efforts between the federal and state level in the face of health crisis.
The absence of pandemic and health emergency legislations interfered with coordinated response efforts from stakeholders. From a personal perspective, the U.S. and the world in general was slow to respond to the Covid-19 emergency. The existence of legislations to deal with such mishaps could have arrested the situation from deteriorating into a worldwide disaster. For instance, Du et al. (2020) observe that the Chinese could have contained the corona virus from its epicenter in Wuhan before it spread to other regions. Similarly, the United States could have prevented further escalation of the resulting health emergency with appropriate national laws. Therefore, it is upon Congress to come up with legislations capable of addressing similar health disasters in the future to prevent exacerbating health emergencies. Such laws would cover aspects including vaccination, testing, isolation, quarantine lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and restricted gatherings, all with a view to improving public health system capabilities and coordination. Therefore, the presence of such modern laws will go a long way to mitigate health emergency risks and spread during epidemics and pandemics.
Enhanced coordination and synchronized health emergency response should receive top priority in formulating the legislation. As a model democracy worldwide, the United States has done a splendid job in setting up autonomous institutions to handle various issues touching on health. For instance, the CDC has a mandate to research and contain the spread of viral diseases while the FDA handles the licensing of drugs and poisons. Such agencies enjoy autonomy in operation, which has greatly increased their efficiency levels. In effect, this autonomy empowers them to work independently without external interference from other arms of government. Whereas this mode of operation has improved health service delivery, it also comes as a weakness in terms of coordinated response efforts. Many gray areas of interagency cooperation emerge during such instances. Therefore, KFF (2022) argues that the One Health Act of 2021 comes in handy to address interagency cooperation during health emergency. The new legislation seeks to synchronize federal programs, goals, and priorities during health emergency response to avoid confusion. It also bestows responsibilities to specific agencies and stakeholders for accountability purposes. Hence, the legislation will enable stakeholders to act synegetically when responding to crises.
Call for Action
There is a need for wide consultations and contributions in the process of legislation formulation. There is a need to collect views from the various agencies and leading officials with a good understanding of their resources and capabilities. Only then will they draw a program encompassing the synchronized response efforts during health emergencies. While at it, it is also critical to respect and uphold various organizations’ autonomy during operation to avoid dilution of power and authority.
The effectiveness of government agencies in responding to health emergencies can be significantly enhanced by synchronizing efforts at the federal and state level. The One Health Act of 2021 seeks to synchronize health emergency responses in the future. The Covid-19 pandemic made it clear that the country still relies on outdated and ineffective laws governing health emergency responses. For this reason, the renewed quest to coordinate such efforts will be a step forward in the right direction. The country remains in a better position to respond to health emergency in the future with successful implementation of the One Health Act of 2021.
Aassve, A., Alfani, G., Gandolfi, F., & Le Moglie, M. (2021). Epidemics and trust: The case of the Spanish Flu. Health Economics, 30(4), 840-857.
Du, Z., Wang, L., Cauchemez, S., Xu, X., Wang, X., Cowling, B. J., & Meyers, L. A. (2020). Risk for transportation of coronavirus disease from Wuhan to other cities in China. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 26(5), 1049.
KFF (2022, August 26). U.S. Global health legislation tracker. KFF. www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/fact-sheet/u-s-global-health-legislation-tracker/.
Mello, M.M., & Gostin, L.O. (2023). Public health law modernization 2.0: Rebalancing public health powers and individual liberty in the age of COVID-19. Health Affairs, 42(3), 318–327.