Date: May 29 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: APHA Media Relations, 202-777-3913
Statement from American Public Health Association Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD
“I can’t breathe.”
With those last words, George Floyd, an unarmed, handcuffed black man, died this week after being pinned down by a white Minneapolis police officer, an atrocious action that has sparked outrage throughout the nation.
We raise our voices, too, horrified, stunned and angered.
We are appalled but are not surprised by the despicable way Floyd was killed. We weep for the man, his family and a country that continues to allow this to happen. We also join in the chorus for justice and ring the alarm to all Americans. Racism is a longstanding systemic structure in this country that must be dismantled, through brutally honest conversations, policy changes and practices.
Racism attacks people’s physical and mental health. And racism is an ongoing public health crisis that needs our attention now!
We see discrimination every day in all aspects of life, including housing, education, the criminal justice system and employment. And it is amplified during this pandemic as communities of color face inequities in everything from a greater burden of COVID-19 cases to less access to testing, treatment and care.
Americans cannot be silent about this. As Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
We refuse to be silent, and we call for you to join us in our advocacy for a healthier nation. At the American Public Health Association, every moment of our waking hours is poured into finding better, more healthful lives for all, so everyone has a chance to breathe. It’s our life-blood.
APHA champions the health of all people and all communities. We strengthen the public health profession. We speak out for public health issues and policies backed by science. We are the only organization that combines a nearly 150-year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health. Visit us at www.apha.org.
“Public health” is a phrase you hear everywhere right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has focused attention on the federal, state and local public health agencies we depend on to guide us through an infectious disease crisis. Most of the time, though, it’s easy to ignore all the behind-the-scenes work done by public health workers and agencies that makes modern life possible. But as we’re finding out, if we don’t support public health systems they may not be ready when we really need them.
Public health is more than preventing and stopping pandemics. It’s everything that promotes and protects the health of people where they live, learn, work and play. Whereas physicians treat us when we’re sick or injured, those working in public health prevent us from getting sick or injured in the first place, by providing services such as immunizations and disease screening and by encouraging healthy behaviors. Some examples of the many public-health occupations are: restaurant inspectors, health educators, nutritionists, researchers, social workers, epidemiologists, infection control officers, and, of course, public health physicians and nurses.
Earlier this year, the Anchorage Daily News reported that “Years of cuts have starved Alaska’s public health system.” There is now some supplemental funding to address COVID-19, but we need a truly robust public health system in both good times and bad. That’s where the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the Alaska Public Health Association (ALPHA) come in. APHA, in coordination with its state and regional affiliates, works with key decisionmakers to shape public health policies, year after year. Those include ensuring access to care, protecting funding for core public health programs and services, and eliminating health disparities. APHA is the leading voice for public health in the nation, and ALPHA, the state affiliate of the APHA since 1976, is the leading voice for public health in Alaska.
Concerned Alaskans of all backgrounds can join ALPHA to work with public health professionals for a better, healthier future. Are you a parent concerned about kids using tobacco and vaping products? Do you care about your neighbors who rely on Medicaid? Do you wish somebody would do something about restoring health and social services for all the people you see on the streets? Are you a student interested in a career in nursing or epidemiology? Do you worry about the cleanliness of the air you breathe and the water you drink? Are you alarmed about the likely health effects of the climate crisis? Opioid abuse? Domestic violence? ALPHA is working to improve our state’s ability to deal with each of those issues, and more.
There’s a role for each of us to play in strengthening public health in Alaska. We can all let our legislators know we want appropriate funding for public health nurses and epidemiologists, for mental health services, and for university programs that conduct research and provide training on medicine and public health. A good way to stay informed and raise your voice together with other concerned citizens is to join ALPHA. You’ll receive regular updates on important health policy issues, and you’ll have the best public health information right at your fingertips. Just click on the Membership tab above.
We are all deeply invested in public health, and we’re all put at risk when our public health systems are allowed to decline. Do your part, by learning more about public health and the work ALPHA is doing for you every day.
During the first full week of April each year, the American Public Health Association (APHA) brings together communities across the United States to observe National Public Health Week as a time to recognize the contributions of public health and highlight issues that are important to improving our nation’s health.
The COVID-19 pandemic means public health is the topic of the day worldwide. How does that apply to our National Public Health Week daily themes? Here are just a few ideas.
MONDAY: MENTAL HEALTH — advocate for and promote emotional well-being
COVID-19 is causing heightened levels of stress. In particular, isolation and quarantine can be highly stressful. As can separation from loved ones, especially those detained off-shore or in other countries. And many in the public health and health care sectors, as well as those working in affected industries, are shouldering a significant mental health burden.
Reach out and check on your loved ones and community members. And read and share such resources as the World Health Organization’s Mental Health Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tips on managing anxiety and stress.
TUESDAY: MATERNAL AND CHILD HEALTH — ensure the health of mothers and babies throughout the lifespan
Research to date finds pregnant women and young children do not seem to be more susceptible to COVID-19. If anything, women (in general) may have a survival advantage over men (In China, 2.8% of infected men have died, compared to 1.7% of women).
Still, pregnant women and children are considered “at-risk populations” and need some special support during the pandemic. Check out the Kaiser Family Foundation’s issue brief Novel Coronavirus “COVID-19”: Special Considerations for Pregnant Women. HealthyChildren.org has a COVID-19 page for children and families. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers links to clinical guidance and other resources, while the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has posted a practice advisory.
WEDNESDAY: VIOLENCE PREVENTION — reduce personal and community violence to improve health
Increased stress can lead to increased aggression, feeding a cycle of violence especially in communities already under strain. And, as APHA member Elena Ong writes in this Public Health Newswire post, “Since the first case of the new coronavirus was reported in Wuhan, China, in December, there’s been a surge in reports of microaggressions, discrimination and violent attacks against people who look Chinese or Asian.”
Much of the stress people are feeling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is linked to fear fed by misinformation. Help counteract the “infodemic” of bad and troubling information by sharing WHO’s mythbusters and resources on APHA’s COVID-19 page and Get Ready site. And as Ong reminds us, “let’s fight fear-mongering with principled and visionary leadership.”
THURSDAY: ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH — help protect and maintain a healthy planet
In perhaps one of the few silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic, air pollution, specifically CO2 levels, diminished in Italy due to dramatic lifestyle changes. Yet as always, changes in people’s lifestyle patterns can have unexpected consequences on our environment. For now, remain vigilant in recycling plastics. If you are sick, dispose of soiled items by double-bagging in secured containers with lids. Continue to advocate for increased funding to improve our water infrastructure and adequate funding to support public health workers in monitoring, preparing for and responding to the health effects of climate change.
FRIDAY: EDUCATION — advocate for quality education and schools
As with any illness, reliance on science-based information and response is key. Schools at all levels should be engaged in active surveillance and communicate with their state and local public health departments should a person display possible COVID-19 symptoms. Distance learning is now more necessary than ever, heightening the need for access to technology and high-speed internet As schools are often the key source of daily nutrition for students in low-income families, school systems are now called on to find ways to distribute meals while maintaining social distancing.
Reach out to your local school system to see if volunteers are needed, whether for meal distribution, online learning support or other tasks. If you’ve found yourself suddenly at home with your school-aged children, CDC has advice on how to talk to them about COVID-19, as does the National Association of School Psychologists.
SATURDAY: HEALTHY HOMES — ensure access to affordable and safe housing
During the COVID-19 quarantine, people are spending even more time in their homes than usual. For those living in unsafe environments, problems like mold and secondhand smoke exposure can worsen existing health conditions.
Share CDC’s workplace, home and school guidance. And while designed to help people prepare their homes for an outbreak, CDC’s Protect Your Home page is still useful now, in the midst of the pandemic. The National Center for Healthy Housing’s Fact Sheets, Checklists and Guides page offers links on ways to keep your home safe, the costs of home upkeep and seasonal maintenance checklists.
SUNDAY: ECONOMICS — advocate for economic empowerment as the key to a healthy life
One of the most dramatic reactions to COVID-19 has been that of the stock markets and the underlying industries they represent. It already appears clear that many industries and their employees will suffer a significant financial hardship. On an individual level, the burden of being out of work and (potentially) hospitalized for an extended period of time can have disastrous impacts on financial health.
Advocate for paid sick leave and a living wage. Urge your members of Congress to prioritize public health infrastructure and paid sick, family and medical leave in any future legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
These tips brought to you by the Delaware Academy of Medicine/Delaware Public Health Association and APHA.
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