GAO Report Highlights Coordination Challenges in Federal Mpox Response

GAO report criticizes HHS's uncoordinated response to 2022 mpox outbreak, highlighting need for unified public health emergency management system. Legislation aims to address recurring challenges and improve future preparedness.

Salman Akhtar
New Update
GAO Report Highlights Coordination Challenges in Federal Mpox Response

GAO Report Highlights Coordination Challenges in Federal Mpox Response

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has shed light on significant coordination challenges faced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) during the 2022 mpox outbreak. The report criticizes HHS for its poor internal communication, lack of a department-wide after-action program, and struggles in engaging state and local governments.

According to the GAO report, state and local jurisdictions encountered difficulties in accessing and using vaccines and tests, which may have led to unnecessary suffering. The report also found that HHS's response to the mpox outbreak was uncoordinated and lacked interagency cohesion, with no central point of coordination until the White House team was established.

The report highlights repeated problems at HHS, including ineffective communication with the public, hurdles to providing testing and antivirals, and obstacles for local governments to share health data. It also points out inadequate outreach to underserved communities, exacerbated by a lack of language access.

Why this matters: The GAO report underscores the need for a more unified and coordinated public health response system to better tackle future health emergencies. It serves as a wake-up call for HHS to address its recurring emergency response challenges and ensure that lessons from past emergencies are effectively integrated into future preparedness and response plans.

In response to the report, U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, who represents part of the Bronx in New York City, has introduced the Coordinated Agency Response Enhancement (CARE) Act. The legislation aims to overhaul federal public health emergency management by establishing a unified after-action program within HHS, improving coordination among its agencies, and ensuring the development of a comprehensive, inclusive, and culturally sensitive risk communication strategy targeting key at-risk populations.

The GAO report has been described as an "indictment" of HHS's readiness, with Torres stating that the federal government and HHS were "catastrophically unprepared" for the mpox outbreak. HHS has acknowledged the GAO's recommendations and stated that it is committed to strengthening future response efforts.

The report recommends that HHS develop and implement a coordinated, department-wide after-action program that encourages collaboration across HHS component agencies and includes relevant external stakeholders to identify and resolve recurring emergency response challenges. This would help strengthen HHS's ability to respond to future public health emergencies, including those that could be more infectious and lethal than mpox.

Key Takeaways

  • GAO report criticizes HHS for poor coordination, communication, and engagement during 2022 mpox outbreak.
  • State/local jurisdictions faced difficulties accessing vaccines and tests, leading to unnecessary suffering.
  • HHS's mpox response was uncoordinated, lacking interagency cohesion and a central point of coordination.
  • Recurring issues include ineffective public communication, testing/antiviral hurdles, and inadequate outreach to underserved communities.
  • GAO report calls for a more unified and coordinated public health response system to address future emergencies.