Public Health Week is a great time to reflect on public health and what it means to me and to the community.
Isn’t it so true that there are just some things that we take for granted? Really, these days who thinks about whether we have clean water? Or whether our waste is properly disposed? Or whether our children and grandchildren will be subject to the ravages of polio, measles, and whooping cough? Or whether we can rely on out-of-home care for children to be both safe and of high quality?
The blessing — and bane — of public health is that when we’re at our best, preventing bad things from happening, we are largely invisible to the public at large. A blessing, of course, to our communities, which are protected. But, a bane, to be sure, when public health is competing with other governmental services for funding.
So, what are the emerging public health issues for our time?
First, we must be vigilant to insure that we don’t regress and lose ground from the significant public health achievements of the 20th century. As attempts are made in state legislatures to allow more latitude for parents to exclude their children from required immunizations, we put at risk the herd immunity that has been achieved. As attempts are made to undermine community water fluoridation, we jeopardize our oral health, particularly that of our children. As efforts continue to undermine access to health insurance for the uninsured through the Affordable Care Act, we worry about the potential implication for millions of Americans continuing to lack access to the health care system.
We must stand firm in protecting the public health achievements of the past while continuing to make progress on emerging challenges to the health of the public: obesity, chronic diseases and e-cigarettes, just to name a few.
We must work together with our communities, policy makers, and public health researchers to identify and implement the policy, system, and environmental changes that will slow the rate of increase of these challenges and eventually see the rates decline. Public health must be at the forefront of convening partners to work collectively on these issues.
Let’s continue to shine a light on public health and its important role in assuring healthy communities for all of us, not just during National Public Health Week, but throughout the year.