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Let’s hope it’s only the first step….

Steven Weber, professor of political science and at the School of Information, faculty director of the Center for Long-term Cybersecurity | October 26, 2009

Presidents declare emergencies about as frequently as they hire and fire advisors.  No big deal, there.

What’s important here is the opportunity that the President now has, to shine some much needed light and attention on the vastly under-funded and dysfunctional public health system in much of the United States.

Consider how much of the public’s attention right now is focused on flu — when was the last time you weren’t talking about it with your friends??  That’s the opportunity.  It’s rare that the public cares so much about public health capabilities.  It’s a critical part of our health care system — but also one of the most neglected and one of the places where the overall health of the population would get an enormous bang for the buck when it comes to investment.

A hundred years ago, public health officials were the heros of medicine.  Most of the extraordinary improvements in life span during the 20th century, are a result of not very glamorous but very important and impactful investments in public health measures.

I hope it doesn’t come to this, but if we do get a serious pandemic this year or next, the public health system will crack under the weight of demand in most urban centers most visibly but also in rural America.  And if the pandemic doesn’t come this year or next, it will at some point — that’s nearly a biological inevitability.

Now is one of those ‘teachable’ moments that President Obama likes, and is so good at seizing.  It’s decidedly un-sexy when you could demonize United Health Group and Pfizer instead.  But the impact of a serious discussion and political move for public health investment could be huge.

Comments to “Let’s hope it’s only the first step….

  1. Public Health funding concerns also extend into Europe. I am based in Cyprus and we have seen a substantial shift away from valid upgrades and funding grants for the hospital or health system due to the recent economic crisis. With austerity measures in place, it is hard to see a timeline when the governments will look back into funding health care projects. Lets hope.

  2. The Australian public health system is very similar to the U.S. Over the last decade we have seen a drop in public health spending and longer waiting times at hospitals. The H1N1 virus however put the Australian healthcare system back into the spotlight and reitirated the importance of quality and inexpensive health care for Australians. Very valid points.

  3. Steve, I couldn’t agree with you more. There was a time when our Public Health agencies did “prevention” but that all went by the wayside when we had no data to show that “prevention” actually saved money. Isn’t it sad that we have to “prove” something that is so obvious to most of us?! Now we are seeing a dramatic upsurge in the prevalence of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and cancer. I think most of us in the health field could have predicted this would happen. When you don’t implement programs that prevent the onset of disease, you are doomed to pay for the cost of treating them! It is about time we increased funding for public health programs – in the long term, we will save a lot of money…Joanne Ikeda, Nutritionist Emeritus, UCB

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