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September 10, 2002
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee for the opportunity to be here today to comment on the newly released GAO report on the blood supply.
Secretary Thomson and I are pleased to note that the report finds the nation's blood supply to be generally adequate, despite new donor restrictions. This is a well-deserved tribute to the American Red Cross, the members of America's Blood Centers, and the remaining collection services, such as the Armed Forces Blood Program, who together collect nearly 15 million units of red blood cells each year. It is also an equally well-deserved tribute to the generosity of the American people, and to our collective commitment to support each other in times of either individual or collective need.
This commitment was reaffirmed by the overwhelming numbers of Americans who came out to give blood in the hours and days after September 11. One year later, the most important lesson to be learned from the response of these donors is that the selflessness and heroism we saw on the streets of New York City pervades this country, and that is something of which all of us can be very proud.
The other lesson was that we were not fully prepared to handle the large numbers of blood donations from so many generous Americans, which ended up exceeding the actual need. The blood community responded to this experience by joining together to form the American Association of Blood Banks Interorganizational Task Force on Domestic Disasters and Acts of Terrorism. I am a member of this task force.
The Task Force met on December 11, 2001, and it adopted a set of principles and an action plan for dealing with future events of this sort. The Task Force's work product was publicly reviewed at the January 31, 2002 meeting of the Department's Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability, and the Advisory Committee unanimously endorsed the Task Force's recommendations.
Other speakers before you today will discuss these recommendations with you in detail. I will simply say here that the Department of Health and Human Services remains actively involved with the Task Force and its individual members, and that the Department is prepared to implement the Task Force's plans if the need should ever arise.
Before leaving this subject, however, I want to point out that the Food and Drug Administration was exceptionally responsive to the needs of both public health and the blood industry during this difficult time, and I want to commend them publicly once again for their response. The Food and Drug Administration also conducted a comprehensive review of their capacity to address future demands of this sort on the blood supply whether due to natural disasters or terrorism. They too presented their plans to the Department's Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability, and the Advisory Committee also unanimously endorsed their plans.
Today, there remains some concern about the impact in some parts of the country of new blood donor deferral policies that will go into effect at the end of October 2002. These policies are intended to decrease the possible transmission by blood of new variant Cruetzfeldt-Jacob Disease, or vCJD. The policies will have particular impact on New York City, which for some time has imported a substantial amount of its blood from Europe.
The entire blood industry has anticipated this event, and plans have been made for other blood collection centers to provide blood to New York while its own facilities expand their operations. We will be monitoring the situation in New York very closely over the coming months. We anticipate that the nation's blood suppliers will be able to meet this challenge, and we are pleased that the newly released GAO report concurs.
Let me also mention that our system of preparedness has already been tested three times since 9/11. First, in October 2001 we were challenged by outbreaks of anthrax disseminated through the postal system. Despite other public health concerns, CDC and FDA managed to work very rapidly to assess the risk to the blood system and to issue appropriate guidance on reasonable precautions.
Second, in December 2001, at the time of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, both industry and government mobilized fully and stayed on constant alert to ensure that any disruption or disaster could be addressed with confidence in the safety and availability of blood through the activation of existing plans.
And third, we are now in the midst of an emerging epidemic of West Nile Virus. Again, the public health agencies in collaboration with the blood industry have mobilized rapidly and are acting aggressively to define any possible risk from transfusions and to identify feasible and effective intervention strategies.
The Department of Health and Human Services remains interested in receiving suggestions from the blood industry on how we can support their efforts to assure that the blood supply remains both adequate and safe, in times of peace and in times of national emergency. In particular, we will be receiving the most recent recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability which met last week.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
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Last revised: September 10, 2002