- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Maryland’s stock of antiviral medications is 38 percent lower per capita than supplies in Virginia and 24 percent below the District’s stockpile — statistics that mirror the findings of a nonprofit agency that said last year that Maryland was tied for last in the nation in readiness for a health emergency.

According to figures released earlier this week, Maryland will have a supply of about 476,000 doses of antiviral medication available in the coming days to withstand what some health officials fear could be a widespread outbreak of swine flu. That supply works out to a course of treatment for one out of about every 11.8 state residents.

Virginia, by comparison, will have just over 1 million doses of the medication — or a course for one out of about every 7.4 state residents.

The District expects to have up to 69,000 doses, which will mean one course for every 9.7 D.C. residents.

The Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issued a report in December saying Maryland had purchased less than half of the federally subsidized antiviral medications available to state health officials to prepare for a flu pandemic.

The report said the state had completed five out of 10 benchmark indicators for medical disaster preparedness — a score that tied for the lowest in the country.

Virginia was among five states that completed 10 of the benchmarks on the report, while the District completed seven of the measures.

Authors of the report said that while the findings had been intended for a situation such as the outbreak of bird flu, which swept China and other parts of Asia in 2003, the report also can be used to gauge the state’s preparedness for the current outbreak of swine flu.

“It had pandemic flu, bird flu in particular, in mind, but it certainly can be used in any situation, including swine flu,” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health.

Maryland health officials contested the findings at the time, saying the report was based on false or incomplete information.

David Paulson, a spokesman for Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said Tuesday that the report did not include purchases of antiviral medication by private companies under contract with the state and that Maryland will receive the full allotment of 578,000 doses by September.

“When the report came out, our administrators were ticked off at the time and a little bit surprised the reporting measures for that report were as faulty and incomplete as they were,” Mr. Paulson said.

Representatives of Trust for America’s Health defended the report Tuesday, saying they relied on federal statistics compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services to rank state purchases of antiviral medications.

The department’s documents show that the findings, which were updated as of September, included “all subsidized, unsubsidized and open-market treatment courses purchased” by the states.

The figures as of September showed that Maryland had purchased about 210,000 courses of antiviral medication out of a possible 578,000 courses that would have been subsidized by the federal government.

Virginia had purchased roughly 827,000 courses, which was about 50,000 doses more than what the federal government subsidized, according to the report. The District purchased about 45,000 courses out of a possible 58,000, or more than 75 percent of their subsidized supply.

According to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Maryland has 276,000 courses of antiviral medication in a state stockpile and can rely on the federal government to release another 200,000 courses by the end of this week. Virginia has about 770,000 courses available with another 280,000 doses on the way, while the District has 48,000 courses available with another 21,525 courses expected to arrive.

The authors of the report say the economic recession may have forced states to cut back on what they would have normally purchased for disaster preparedness.

“The system is fraught with problems,” said Mr. Levi, who advocated a more centralized system of distribution. “These are tough economic times, and some states simply could not afford to purchase the full allotment guaranteed by the federal government.”

No cases of swine flu have been confirmed in Maryland, Virginia or the District, local health officials said.

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