I remember the first time I saw the magic of public health in action. It took me two airplanes, a long bus ride, 12 graceful hearts, one holistic nonprofit, and a village with arms wide open to understand. But once I saw it, I got it. On this mission to Nicaragua, we cemented floors for these families who were previously sleeping on dirt floors, a breeding ground for pathogens, parasites, and bacteria. That was it, that was public health. From that day on, these families would no longer have to tread through a river and up a mountain, sometimes in the dark or barefoot, to receive healthcare for the illnesses related to their dirt floors because the need for care was eliminated.
You see, when public health is working you don’t actually see it, in my opinion, making it hard for people to pay close attention. Today, everyone around the world can see public health. During this pandemic, we have learned terms “social distancing” and “flatten the curve”—part of the public health magic. We have seen mistakes in emergency preparedness and risk communication. We have been told misinformation by leaders who are not listening to public health. So, today, we all see it.
Public health is in a crisis in the United States—not just because of the pandemic. This is a funding crisis that has been happening since long before our current events. Truth be told, I fully believe that if more people could see the magic, in the way that I saw the magic of a cement floor, we would not be in such bad shape in America right now. Our current state is not because public health has failed, but rather the lack of support to public health.
I hope some of the “good” that comes from the COVID19 tragedy is that public health has more clout. I hope that the recommendations that organizations such as the Trust for America’s Health have been making for years are now taken seriously: increase funding for public health at all levels, preserve the Prevention and Public Health Fund, prepare for public health emergencies and pandemics, establish a standing public health emergency response fund, build a national resilience strategy to combat deaths of despair, prevent and reduce chronic disease, support better health and top local priorities in every community, and expand the use of evidence-based strategies.
Recently, I read an article about the next generation dreaming of being epidemiologists (as opposed to more obvious professions to youth) when they grow up. But I hope it doesn’t take that long for these changes to be made. Happy National Public Health Week to all the public health professionals who work magic in so many different capacities!
This blog post was written by NHC member Alexis Clow.
Alexis serves at the Allegheny County Health Department Chronic Disease Prevention Program as an Outreach Coordinator.