New Role For Public Health

New Role For Public Health - With the spiraling costs of medical care and the corresponding interest in cost containment and accountability, it is reasonable to avoid duplications. We need a closer link of clinical and public health disciplines and activities.

A recent example of the control of a new epidemic by the collaborative efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO), basic scientists and clinicians followed the outbreak of SARS—Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. WHO forcefully assumed international leadership, coordinated scientific investigations, and quickly reported all new advances from the laboratory and field epidemiological studies to clinicians. In medical schools it is propitious for these disciplines jointly to develop curricula and research projects.

In the health service arena, closer ties between clinicians and public health officials will be efficient and effective for the good of the population. A special role for public health officials could be to “translate” important epidemiological data for clinicians giving primary care. This could be particularly important and useful in enhancing prevention. Examples of useful data would be the risk ratios for becoming an alcohol abuser for persons with and without a family history of abuse; cigarette smoking for the smoker, those nearby, and the unborn fetus; and for fatal versus nonfatal injury in persons driving with and without a seat belt.

In the field of communicable diseases it is useful to know the risk of AIDS in those practicing intravenous drug abuse or unprotected sexual activities, the relative risk of Lyme disease in those using effective insect repellents versus those not using such agents, and the relative risk of hepatitis B in healthcare workers who have received the vaccine and those who have not. In 2006, a key role for a public health-clinicians partnership is the continual education of the public about the real risks of avian (H5N1) influenza and the progress toward its prevention and control.

An epidemiological approach to community-wide education about local health risks, perhaps with a well-designed periodical, would further link the clinician and public health official. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has done this successfully with Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. A community-wide modification for consumption by local practitioners would be helpful. Such networking is feasible and desirable.

Networking with schools, businesses, health clubs, and senior citizen groups might increase compliance with behavior designed to enhance resistance to environmental hazards. Fundamentals of general and dental hygiene, nutrition, exercise, and stress control would be essential components. It would be reasonable to reinforce such basic principles as maintaining immunizations and proper use of antibiotics. In summary, we need a proactive and integrative role in education, one that involves networking with clinicians and the public directly. Improving environmental safety has been the focus and strength of public health. Essentially, the goal has been to reduce the microbial hazards to humans. For the most part, this is carried out by systematic measurement or a series of inspections of the environment. 

Good general sanitation and safe air, water, and food are hallmarks of public health. Environmental activist groups have heightened interest in environmental safety. This is an opportune time to build a coalition between informed public health officials and interested and energetic activists genuinely concerned with improving the environment. From infectious diseases point of view, an important goal would be to reduce the degree of exposure while preserving the vitality of the ecosystem. The government of Brazil was reported to have instituted a $200 million program to control malaria in the Amazon region by spraying dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) in thousands of rain forest huts. As McCoy pointed out, however, the chemical has been banned in over 40 countries because of its lethal effect on birds and fish.

Moreover, in India, although it had a remarkable short-term effect initially (75 million annual cases of malaria reduced in the 1950s to 50,000), the number of cases rose to 65 million by 1976, the result of resistance in mosquito vectors. Moreover, bottled milk sampled in India in April 1990 had 10 times the permissible limit of DDT. DDT is fat soluble and has been carried in food chains to countries all over the world. The lesson we have learned from the Russian nuclear accident at Chernobyl, the AIDS epidemic, and the DDT experience and the SARS epidemic is that radiation, viruses, and pollutants respect no national borders.

The response to such lessons needs to be an enhanced commitment by individuals, communities, and nations to solve the problems of others and to view the world as a global village. Limiting the survival of important infection agents, their animal reservoirs, or hosts requires careful examination of the implications of such approaches in collaboration with veterinarians, entomologists, and toxicologists.

by Umaee

Source: public health & preventive medicine

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