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Johns Hopkins receives $27.5M CDC grant for epidemic prep

The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security will use the funding to incorporate data-driven tools into public health infrastructure.
By admin
Sep 19, 2023, 2:39 PM

The CDC has awarded a $27.5 million grant to the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security to help the nation prepare its data-driven public health infrastructure for the next epidemic. 

The new project, called “Toward Epidemic Preparedness: Enhancing Public Health Infrastructure and Incorporating Data-Driven Tools” will bring together traditional and non-traditional stakeholders from across the public health community to advance the use of analytics and predictive modeling in forecasting and responding to public health threats. 

“This initiative is a crucial step in fortifying our nation’s defenses against future epidemics,” said Caitlin Rivers, PhD, MPH, an epidemiologist and assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering who will be co-leading the project with Crystal Watson, DrPH. “Through collaborative partnerships and the deployment of data-driven tools, we aim to empower public health professionals, decision-makers, and communities across the country to proactively respond to emerging health threats.” 

The Johns Hopkins team will work closely with the CDC’s Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics, established at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. Rivers served as the founding director of the CDC center before returning to Johns Hopkins in 2022. 

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for the Bloomberg School to work with the CDC to build on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and help create prevention and response systems that are robust, resilient, and ready for the challenges ahead,” says Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD, ScM, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “I am proud that Caitlin Rivers and Crystal Watson will play such key roles in transforming our approach to preparedness. By promoting innovative resources and tools and nurturing stronger collaborations across sectors, they will be protecting health and preserving lives around the nation.”  

The project will begin by collecting feedback from public health decision-makers about gaps in information needs and start developing a “wish list” for analytics capabilities that could aid faster, more comprehensive responses during public health emergencies. 

 This work is especially important after the COVID-19 pandemic exposed serious flaws in the nation’s public health infrastructure, exacerbated by years of chronic underfunding, staffing shortages, and insufficient data interoperability, as well as poor communication and lack of preparedness at the highest levels of government. 

Before COVID-19, public health spending comprised less than 3% of the $4.3 trillion of national healthcare spending each year. While Congress has since provided additional funding and resources to cope with the pandemic, more is needed to get ready for the next major threat – whenever and wherever it may strike. 

Predictive modeling and other analytics capabilities will be crucial for responding to emerging areas of concern and appropriately allocating resources in case of a crisis. The Johns Hopkins project, as well as ongoing collaborative efforts across the 13 members of the CDC’s Outbreak Analytics and Disease Modeling Network, will be vital for understanding data needs and developing the skills and tools required to rise to future challenges.  

“This project enables our team to promote nationwide adoption of data analytics tools with new and established partners,” says Watson, a risk assessment and preparedness expert who is also an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering. “Building analytical and communication skills is vital for aiding policymakers in gathering, understanding, and acting on evidence during health crises.” 

Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry.  Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.  She can be reached at jennifer@inklesscreative.com.

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