When it comes to public health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) didn’t have a lot of good news to share in 2018.
Life expectancy went down. Diagnosed cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDS) went up. And more and more toddlers are not being vaccinated.
Gun violence continues. The opioid epidemic rages on. And millions of Americans still don’t have health coverage, especially for pre-existing conditions.
So what’s the good news?
“The fact that people are talking about these things and calling them public health crises is good,” said Petersen. “This puts more attention on public health and gets people asking what can be done.”
Keeping these issues front and center, however, is a challenge.
“People think that what is not readily apparent—such as the West Nile virus—is gone. But while vaccines and infection-control measures can keep diseases at bay, in actuality they are with us all the time,” explained Petersen. “We have only eradicated one disease in the history of mankind, and that is smallpox. Everything else is still here. It’s hard to keep people’s attention on things they don’t see or feel are an immediate threat. That’s an ongoing problem in public health.”
Thinking big picture and multidimensional can help make 2019 better than 2018. To have a meaningful impact on public health problems, many sectors need to come together, Petersen notes.
“In the case of the opioid epidemic, for instance, it takes the combined effort of clinical care providers, the pharmaceutical industry, insurance companies, law enforcement, substance-abuse professionals and city and county officials to respond,” she said. “And we have to anticipate how one action can affect another. We can shut down pill mills, for example, but then we need an alternative for people with legitimate pain. Public health goals belong to the public. It takes multiple entities to make a difference.”
Here’s hoping those entities can come together and make 2019 a healthy one for all.
Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health