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Last Updated

22 Jun 2003

Source: Associated Press, February 6, 2002.

Bush: U.S. Need More Bioterror Funds

By SANDRA SOBIERAJ, Associated Press Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) - President Bush peered at anthrax spores through a microscope Tuesday and said the nation needs an early-warning system against such deadly biological agents, just as 1950s America built the DEW Line to warn of incoming bombers.

Bush visited the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which is on the cutting edge of infectious outbreak surveillance, in a campaign to persuade Congress to approve the $6 billion he requested for preparing the nation for a bioterrorism attack.

"I want to make sure that each region around the country has proper equipment and the right amount of medicine for the victims of any attack should it occur," Bush said.

"It's an investment that will pay off not only for better security but for better health, and I ask Congress to support me on spending this money."

In a university lab, the president leaned into a microscope to see anthrax close-up. The sample was a harmless strain, the kind used to vaccinate cattle.

Bush recalled last fall's anthrax attacks, in which 18 Americans were infected and five died.

Some of those anthrax infections were identified too late, Bush said.

"We need better testing, better vaccines and better drugs if America is going to be as safe as it can possibly be," he said.

Pittsburgh's Real Time Outbreak and Disease Surveillance project gathers clinical information on 1,000 patients at 17 area hospitals, enabling local officials to identify suspicious cases quickly.

"Some of us remember that back in the '50s, we had what was called the DEW Line on the Arctic Circle to warn us if enemy bombers were coming over the North Pole to attack America," Bush told an audience of medical and public health professionals at the nearby Masonic Temple. It was a reference to the Distant Early Warning system.

"Well, here in Pittsburgh, I had the honor of seeing a demonstration of the modern DEW Line, a real-time outbreak and disease surveillance system developed right here, which is one of the country's leading centers on monitoring biological threats."

Instead of Steel Town, Pittsburgh should be called "Knowledge Town," Bush said.

The budget request, which Bush submitted to Congress on Monday, includes $300 million to help states develop similar surveillance programs.

Tom Ridge, who left his job as Pennsylvania governor after Sept. 11 to be Bush's homeland security director, accompanied Bush and sounded eager to address months-old skepticism about how much clout he would have in the newly created office.

Ridge said he was the one who came up with the record $6 billion spending proposal -- a quadrupling of what the federal government is currently spending on the problem of potential biological attack.

The money will be used to improve rapid public health monitoring and communications, expand government stockpiles of vaccines and antibiotics, and research new treatments for bioterror weapons.

In his remarks Tuesday, Bush addressed the broader war on terrorism and brushed aside any public clamor for Osama bin Laden, the suspected terrorist mastermind who remains at large.

"I know the news media likes to say, 'Where's ol' Osama bin Laden?' He's not the issue. The issue is international terror. I like our chances against bin Laden, however," Bush said.