As this is National Public Health Week, and COVID-19 is still top of mind for clinicians and public health officials, what is it going to take for it to become a secondary issue.
Whether the topic is vaccine distribution, masking in public places, or quarantining at home, the public health field has played a vital role in the last 2 years of the pandemic.
Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, MPH dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, explains the significant role public health plays in these discussions. “The focus on public health is primarily on prevention; prevention is the most beneficial approach to containing disease,” Halkitis stated.
And in thinking about public health, this week (April 4-10) marks National Public Health Week, which was created by The American Public Health Association (APHA). This awareness week is a way to draw attention to important health issues every year.
This year’s National Public Health Week theme is, “Public Health is Where You Are,” with daily themes addressing everything from racism to public health workforce issues to climate change. To find the daily themes, people can check out the website dedicated to the subject.
With COVID-19 still presenting health challenges, the organization has been hosting events remotely.
The largest public health issue continues to be the virus. Although it remains to be seen what will happen with COVID-19, and what its next iteration will be, it is believed it will be a major topic of discussion for some time.
“We will be talking about COVID-19 for the foreseeable future until the number of cases and the number of deaths stabilizes,” Halkitis explained. He says the focus will remain on COVID-19 until greater herd immunity is experienced, and for those people who need to do so, get vaccinated. “Preventing people from advancing to severe disease should be our main directive.”
Other Public Health Topics
Although COVID-19 remains a significant topic, other public health issues garnering attention and discussion including climate change, antimicrobial resistance, and preventing other infectious disease outbreaks.
Today marks World Health Day, which is a global health awareness day celebrated every year under the sponsorship of the World Health Organization (WHO). This year’s focus is around climate change with its Our Planet, Our Health theme.
WHO is trying to raise awareness to create actions that protect the planet and human health.“We need transformative solutions to wean the world off its addiction to fossil fuels, to reimagine economies and societies focused on well-being, and to safeguard the health of the planet on which human health depends,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said in a statement.
Another area that appears to be getting greater public health discussion is antibiotics and specifically preventing antimicrobial resistance. Although studies showed antibiotic usage in health systems actually increased due to providers grappling with clinical care during the early part of the pandemic, an emphasis is now again on trying to create more incentives to enable greater antibiotic development through push and pull incentives along with creating more stewardship.
Addressing Provider Burnout
One of the lingering effects of COVID-19 has been the tremendous burden on health care providers. One accounting had as many as 1 in 5 have left medicine, and since February 2020, lost nearly a half million workers. And those numbers come from November of last year. Now after 2 years of a constant onslaught of caring for people with the virus, countless numbers of providers have been suffering, often silently, and with their colleagues leaving the field, more severely.
Halkitis see a parallel to the early days of AIDs/HIV when people in the medical field and public health fields were leaving. He sees the burnout as something that will continue and the need for vigilance amongst medical and public health peers to take care of their own. “It is also likely we will see the long-term effects on the mental health of public health officers, pracitioners, medical doctors, nurses. Often trauma manifests later and in different ways,” Halkitis stated.
According to Halkitis, one silver lining to COVID-19 has been the awareness of the greater public health infrastructure being depleted and underfunded. “What this has shown is that we need to continue to pour money into and refund our public health departments; we need to continue to train the next generation of public health researchers and scholars, and advance our understanding of public health in the general population so that people understand the role public health has to play, which is different than the role medicine has to play,” Halkitis explained.