Supporting public health supports all Alaskans

“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.