As the COVID-19 pandemic all too painfully showed, science, education, and action are all vital to public health. National Public Health Week, which is April 5-11, highlights the urgent need to “Build Bridges to Better Health”.
The American Public Health Association (APHA) encourages everyone to take steps to rebuild the public health infrastructure, make sure people have the facts to make good healthcare decisions, and bring economic and racial justice to the fore in public health.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the weaknesses and shortcomings of the current healthcare infrastructure of the United States. Rebuilding to create a better and more inclusive world through public health requires investment, education, and equitable distribution of resources.
Investment dollars can reinforce public health infrastructure to protect against future public health emergencies, whether that is lead in the public water system or a pandemic. The call for funding public health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will help protect all communities. The stresses of the current health crisis have created a shortage of healthcare providers; this can be addressed through educational recruitment from diverse populations and financial support for graduating students.
Sharing facts and making sure people have the information they need to make good healthcare decisions have proven more challenging than expected. According to the CDC, wearing masks and physically distancing slows the spread of coronavirus. The COVID-19 vaccines available now are safe and effective. But a steady erosion of trust in public health figures and reported facts have taken a toll on compliance and people’s willingness to get vaccinated.
One of the initiatives the APHA is emphasizing is getting broadband internet in every community. This action will make education accessible to all children and adults, as well as enabling remote work to keep employees safe.
Following the science of public health improves health outcomes.
- Non-medical mask wearing by 75% of the population reduced infections, hospitalizations, and death by 37.7%
- In places where stay-at-home orders were followed, the incidence of COVID-19 deaths was significantly decreased.
- Research reported by several publications also showed
- Hazard pay for essential workers protected communities
- Expanded access to testing helped achieve better health outcomes
- When people’s basic needs were met, they experience reduced stress and better physical health
Economic and Racial Equity
One theme running through all the messages from the APHA is that no matter how public health is rebuilt and expanded, communities of color and other minorities have to be included in the effort. Black, Latin American, and Indigenous communities were disproportionally affected by the pandemic because of lack of access to healthcare resources, economic factors impacting employment and housing, and systemic racism that still inflicts American society.
Dismantling policies and practices that uphold racism is no small task, and certainly will need to be a sustained effort. Educating healthcare providers and hospital staff about racial and ethnic disparities, elevating minorities to positions of leadership, and ensuring access to educational resources will all need to be part of the effort of bring equity to public health for all Americans.
To learn more, see the NPHW website for daily themes for science, health, action, and justice. Implement and support change in your own organizations and communities. Building bridges in public health will take all of us working together.