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Bush Pushes For 'Early Warning' System on Bioterrorism - 2002-02-05

President Bush wants a better "early warning" system to identify potential bioterrorist attacks against the United States. He also wants to improve the way the nation responds to those attacks with a big increase in funding for public health, emergency response, and medical research.

President Bush says America needs a long-term strategy to defend against the threat of terrorists using disease as a weapon. His budget before Congress asks for nearly $6 billion in spending on anti-bioterrorism efforts as part of a broader increase in funding for homeland security.

Mr. Bush wants a 15 percent increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health, bringing that agency's budget to more than $27 billion. More than $1 billion of that will go to new research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases which is trying to develop a new vaccine against anthrax.

America's vulnerability to anthrax attack became an issue last year when the virus killed five people, including two postal workers who handled an anthrax-contaminated letter sent to Capitol Hill. Police have still not identified the source of those letters. President Bush says the country must be better prepared in case it happens again.

"We were able to save lives during the anthrax outbreak, but some infections were identified too late and some people were too badly infected to save," explained Mr. Bush. "We must do everything in our power, everything to protect our fellow Americans. We need better testing, better vaccines, and better drugs if America is going to be as safe as it can possibly be."

The president wants $650 million to expand the national stockpile of vaccines and antibiotics to counter bioterrorist attack. He wants an aggressive research and development program to improve diagnostic tests for deadly biological agents, including $100 million for a new laboratory in the state of Colorado.

President Bush also wants Congress to give more than $600 million to scientists working for the defense department to develop better detection and collection equipment as well as help law enforcement understand how potentially deadly pathogens can be made into weapons.

Mr. Bush wants $1.6 billion to help state and local health care systems improve disease surveillance, upgrade their laboratories, better isolate contaminated patients, and speed communications between medical centers tracking a deadly outbreak.

"We have got to upgrade our communications not only between the federal government and state government but between state governments and local communities and between counties and local jurisdictions," said Mr. Bush. "We have got to be able to talk to each other better so that there's real-time communications so that we can share information in a crisis. Information sharing will help save lives."

The current budget request is more than four times what the administration spent on bioterrorism before September 11. Mr. Bush says more money for research into bioterrorism will likely put scientists closer to cures for other diseases including tuberculosis, malaria, pneumonia, and HIV/AIDS.

"The monies we spend to protect America today are likely to yield long-term benefits, are likely to provide some incredible cures to diseases that many years ago we never thought would be cured," he said. "It's an investment that will pay-off not only for better security but for better health."

President Bush spoke following a tour of the biomedical security institute at the University of Pittsburgh in the eastern state of Pennsylvania. He is on a series of trips outside the capital to campaign for a federal budget topping $2 trillion.