CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Centers for Disease Control is considering a partnership in Hawaii to develop a better early response system to fight infectious diseases. Here, Michael Sage, left, and Harold Pietz, right, of the CDC meet with Dr. Duane Gubler, director of UH's Asia-Pacific Institute for Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases.
CDC eyes Hawaii as key defense for outbreaks
The federal agency would partner with UH to create an early warning system
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is exploring a possible partnership in Hawaii to develop a more effective early warning and response system for infectious diseases.
CDC officials have been talking this week with officials of the University of Hawaii, state Health Department and Pacific Island Health Officers Association about a collaboration.
"We definitely think this is the logical place to build this relationship," said Michael Sage, CDC portfolio management project director in the CDC director's office. Working with him is public health adviser Harold Pietz.
Sage said they're focused on three areas: Early and rapid detection and response to emerging health threats, emergency preparedness and response to all hazards, and improving existing programs supported in Hawaii by CDC grants.
Dr. Duane Gubler, director of the Asia-Pacific Institute for Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases, said at a Hawaii Bioscience Conference two years ago that CDC should have a stronger presence in Asia and the Pacific.
He proposed to CDC Director Julie Gerberding, who was attending the meeting, that the federal agency work with Hawaii to be the center for infectious diseases in Asia and the Pacific.
"That's where all the action will be for emerging infectious diseases in the future," Gubler said.
He has been working with Dr. Richard Yanagihara, UH professor of pediatrics, public health sciences, epidemiology and tropical medicine and medical microbiology, to expand research on diseases of the Pacific and Asia.
Sage and Pietz are working with him to develop a business plan "to move ahead with CDC West and to embed a CDC office in the UH Institute of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases" in the John A. Burns School of Medicine, Gubler said.
Two CDC employees would be located here, Sage said. They would lay the groundwork for building the program and making it work.
Kamehameha Schools, which is involved in developing a biotech center at Kakaako, offered to provide temporary office space to CDC if the plan is approved, Gubler said.
The UH medical school has $37.5 million ($25 million from the National Institutes of Health and $12.5 million from the state) to build a biocontainment laboratory on the ocean side of the new school in Kakaako for research on emerging infectious diseases.
CDC would like to have access to Biosafety Level 3 laboratory space, but priorities must be on research because it will be an NIH-funded building, Gubler said. Rigid standards must be met for Level 3 facilities, which can handle "indigenous or exotic agents which may cause serious or potentially lethal diseases," according to the CDC.
The medical school has Level 2 laboratory space.
"Some crises and epidemics can be mitigated to a large extent," Gubler said. "There is no reason to have a tremendous public health impact, potential loss of life and a devastating impact on the tourism industry. That's what we're trying to prevent.
"My goal is to detect it and contain it at its origin before it gets on a plane and flies to Hawaii and the U.S. mainland."