The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) commends Representatives Lauren Underwood (D-IL), Ami Bera (D-CA), Kathy Castor (D-FL), and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) for their leadership in introducing the Improving DATA in Public Health Act (H.R. 8481). The introduction of this legislation shows a commitment to, and understanding of, the need to make significant improvements to our public health data infrastructure.
CSTE is pleased that the Improving DATA in Public Health Act recognizes the important partnership between state, territorial, local, and tribal (STLT) health departments and the federal government and requires that necessary data be made available first or simultaneously to STLT public health authorities. This is critical not just during national public health emergencies, such as COVID-19 or monkeypox, but for the everyday health issues that public health officials address at the local and state level, such as management of acute cases of hepatitis A in food handlers or meningitis in daycare or school settings.
“Our federated public health system relies on a strong relationship between CDC and state, territorial, local, and tribal health departments. This legislation proposes significant changes to our public health data infrastructure and these changes must be made in consultation with state and local entities. We are encouraged to see the vital role of STLT stakeholders is outlined in the text and look forward to working closely with our partners at CDC moving forward,” said Janet Hamilton, executive director of CSTE.
Importantly, the legislation does not change CSTE’s existing role – one it has held since its inception in the 1950s – to bring together STLT and CDC partners to develop standardized case definitions used for national surveillance and define which conditions should be nationally notifiable.
The legislation also establishes a federal advisory committee on public health information and availability that will oversee and make recommendations on the implementation of public health data reporting. The advisory committee includes representation from STLT entities as well as the national organizations representing these health departments and their public health officials.
Even before the pandemic, CSTE recognized our public health data systems were in dire need of modernization. “Our public health data systems are not where they need to be,” added Hamilton. “Unfortunately, this is the result of years of underfunding and underinvestment in our state, local, territorial, tribal, and federal public health data infrastructure. We can do better as a country, and we must do better. Public health cannot continue to be resourced through emergency funding; we need increased annual investments. CSTE calls on Congress to make significant and sustainable investments in our public health data systems.”