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Dr. Joneigh Khaldun calls for federal action to strengthen public health infrastructure and address health disparities in testimony to Congress
June 23, 2020
Today, in testimony delivered remotely to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), highlighted the ongoing threat posed by COVID-19 and called for federal action to increase investment in our public health infrastructure and eliminate policies that perpetuate health inequities in communities of color.
As of June 22, Michigan had 61,409 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 5,853 deaths. While tremendous progress has been made in slowing the spread of the disease in Michigan, COVID-19 remains a serious threat both in Michigan and across the globe.
“Now is not the time to celebrate or turn our focus away from COVID-19. If anything, we must get more aggressive,” said Khaldun. “More aggressive in urgently addressing health inequities, expanding testing and contact tracing, and ensuring our public health infrastructure is strong. We cannot let our guard down now.”
Khaldun also stressed the need for a national testing strategy and supporting infrastructure as well as accurate and clear messaging from the White House about the true threat of the disease, how and when to get a test and the importance of wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
“As a country, we did not expand access to COVID-19 testing at the rate needed to identify cases quickly - with tragic consequences,” said Khaldun. “A national procurement and testing strategy would have prevented state and local governments from competing with each other and avoided one of the most outrageous realities of this pandemic - turning people away who should have been tested, resulting in the disease spreading like wildfire in our communities. Michigan has since built a testing network of nearly 70 labs and 250 testing sites, and we conduct about 14,000 tests per day. We have the capacity to do more, but supply constraints remain a limiting factor.”
Khaldun testified alongside William Frist, MD, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader; Michael O. Leavitt, former Utah Governor and U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS); and Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH, Executive Vice President and Chief Patient Officer at Merck & Co., Inc., and Co-Chair of the CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security.
“Nationally, this destructive virus has killed over 120,000 people so far with no end in sight and has left under resourced public health departments scrambling to provide a coordinated and robust response in the absence of federal leadership,” said Khaldun. “It has also further unveiled the tragic injustice of racial inequality in our society. But it is not too late. With strong federal leadership and strategic policy, we have the opportunity to turn this crisis around and prevent additional suffering and death.”
A copy of Dr. Khaldun’s full written testimony is available online.