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Expert: Government gets 'D' on anthrax response

By Saundra Young
CNN Medical Unit

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A leading health expert said Tuesday she would give the government a bad grade for its response to the anthrax crisis, saying the government was guilty of mistakes, miscommunications and misjudgments.

"I would give us as a government a 'D' on communication -- both within the government, and between the government and the public," said Dr. Tara O'Toole, deputy director of the Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Her blunt assessment came during a day-long conference here of infectious disease and bioterrorism experts, and sharply contrasts the assessment of public-health officials, who have said the government is doing everything it can to respond to the anthrax problem.

"There was a heroic effort on the part of the health departments, (but) I think there were a lot of mistakes, a lot of missed connections, a lot of misjudgments. I think what we see reflected is the total disengagement of the medical community from any biopreparedness planning or exercises to date," O'Toole said.

The nation's doctors and hospitals lack the necessary training to successfully deal with a bioterrorist threat, O'Toole said.

"Doctors haven't seen anthrax, they haven't seen smallpox, they don't know what to look for," she said. "They don't know how to diagnose it ... The pharmaceutical companies are no more able than the hospitals are to turn around and ramp up to meet a sudden surge in patient demand."

O'Toole said no hospital or "geographically contiguous set of hospitals in the United States" could deal with a sudden surge of 1,000 patients "suddenly needing advanced medical care."

The conference, co-sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and Novartis Corporation, was planned well in advance of the September 11 terrorist attacks.


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