A week to reflect on long-term plans to address public health issues
American Public Health Association Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin acknowledges that conversations among his peers have changed since lawmakers started threatening funding for social programs to improve community wellness.
“We feel like we’re in a battle that I think we shouldn’t be in,” Benjamin said. “In general, we’re fighting to just keep things status quo.”
But he hopes this week, an annual recognition of public health efforts, will mobilize advocates to conceive bold approaches to deal with access to behavioral healthcare, the spread of infectious diseases like the flu, climate change and violence.
The overarching theme of National Public Health Week is creating the world’s healthiest nation by the year 2030.
There are a few pressing matters and some innovative ideas on how to address other issues.
For example, more than half of American adults go without treatment for mental health issues despite increases in insurance coverage and efforts to bring the specialty into the primary-care setting. Meanwhile, this past flu season saw an above-average number of related hospitalizations. Public health experts want to reduce the risk in future seasons by encouraging employers to permit more sick leave.
Advocates have also addressed the increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases by boosting sexual health education in schools at a time when the Trump administration has emphasized abstinence.
Climate change is another issue that has public health advocates and the White House at odds. But the association hopes to bring it to the forefront in the coming year.
Lastly, public health officials will discuss supporting youth intervention programs as a way to curb violence in communities more prone to it.
Amid discussions on these issues will be growing concern among advocates about funding to pay for current initiatives and any new programs.
The $1.5 trillion tax bill included a $750 million cut from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, established under the Affordable Care Act. The fund makes up roughly 12% of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual budget and funds state and local preventive health programs. In February, another $1.35 billion was cut from the fund as a part of the omnibus spending legislation.
Benjamin remains hopeful, saying new leadership at HHS, including Secretary Alex Azar, may help advance the public health agenda.