Brett Giroir

Brett P. Giroir, CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center and director of the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response.

Brett P. Giroir, M.D., CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center and director of the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, testified on Oct. 10 before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security to address rising concern surrounding the nations infectious disease preparedness and response following the first case of Ebola being diagnosed in the United States the previous week.

In response to the Ebola diagnosis on Texas soil, Governor Rick Perry on Oct. 6 established the Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response to assess and manage the risk in Texas, and to prospectively plan for future infectious disease threats. With Giroir at the helm, members of the task force include a wide range of experts in infectious disease and public health, seasoned biodefense leaders, and state agency professionals across major areas, including health and human services, public safety, environmental quality and public education.

Giroir began his testimony by commending the response and coordination of local, state and federal resources regarding the initial Dallas case. He then laid out seven areas of in which the Task Force will initially focus: hospital preparedness and the potential role of improved rapid diagnostics; command and control issues; organization and implementation of epidemiologic investigations and monitoring; decontamination and waste disposal; patient care issues; care of patients being monitored; and handling of domestic animals in contact with patients. The Task Force will submit initial draft assessments and recommendations in these areas by Dec. 1 for consideration by the Office of the Governor and Texas Legislature.

Drawing upon his experience as the Director of the Defense Sciences Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and as a critical care  physician-scientist, specializing in infectious diseases, Giroir recommended that the administration reinstate the position of Special Assistant to the President for Biodefense, a role that existed under both the Clinton and Bush administrations but was eliminated in early 2009. The existence of such a role, Giroir stated, will ensure central White House leadership to prepare for and direct public health responses.

When asked about why he believes this should be a priority of the current administration, Giroir responded that he believes this position should transcend whatever disease is coming around the corner, to provide directives and leadership from the highest level, at the White House.

Additionally, Giroir recommended that the federal government provide a frequently updated list of all possible medical countermeasures, including experimental therapies that may be available on an emergency basis, to treating physicians or appropriate state public health officials. This action would ensure clinicians have a complete overview of the treatment options available at any given time along with information on means of accessing the therapeutics in a timely fashion.

Third, Giroir recommended that funding be restored to the Federal Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), which was created to provide support to improve surge capacity and enhance community and hospital preparedness for public health emergencies. HPP funds have been cut in recent years by the federal government, and that, Giroir said, has had clear, identifiable consequences in Dallas.

Finally, Giroir spoke about the Texas A&M Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (CIADM), one of three government-funded biodefense centers in the United States designed to enhance the nations preparedness against pandemic influenza, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats by accelerating the research and development of vaccines and therapetutics, and rapidly producing these in cases of national emergencies. Giroir stated that the center stands ready, and if called upon, will manufacture a wide range of vaccines or therapeutics required by the U.S. government, including products against Ebola.

There is no question that there will be opportunities for increased performance across many of the complex elements that have been brought together to effectively contain Ebola within Texas, Giroir said. While there have been lessons learned, the successes in controlling this potentially dangerous situation are a testament to the incredible skill and dedication of all those on the ground in Dallas, who in my mind are nothing less than national heroes.

More detailed written testimony from Giroir is available on the Committee on Homeland Security’s website.

— Lindsey Hendrix

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