For more than a decade, communities around the country have celebrated National Public Health Week (NPHW) each April to help protect and improve our nation’s health. Each year, we pick a different issue around which to come together and focus our efforts. This year, with a presidential election and important state and local elections upon us and with the nation’s attention directed towards our failing health system, NPHW 2009 will focus on the role public health must play in improving our nation’s health.
To understand the importance of this year’s theme, one need only to look as far as the startling health indicators that show that, even though we spend more on health care than any other nation, our nation is falling behind in many important measures of what it means to be healthy.
U.S. life expectancy has reached a record high of 78.1 years but still ranks 46th — behind Japan and most of Europe. Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported some progress, a baby born in the United States is more likely to die before its first birthday than a child born in almost any other developed country. It is estimated that one in 20 residents in the nation’s capital are HIV-positive. Disparities persist with ethnic minority populations having nearly eight times the death rate for key health conditions than that of non-minority populations. And the list goes on…
Despite the dramatic progress achieved through a century of public health advancements — the elimination of polio, fluoridation of drinking water and seatbelt laws — our nation’s health falls far short of its potential. Our progress has stalled, and we have reached a point where we must examine our health system and the foundation upon which it stands.
We have the potential to greatly improve our population’s health in the future. By recommitting ourselves to support our nation’s public health system, we can build on the successes of the past and establish the solid foundation needed for a healthy nation. To this end, NPHW 2009 will serve as the launch of APHA’s new campaign – Building the Foundation for a Healthy America.
As we begin this journey, we must all be part of the solution. It’s our job to speak up and share first-hand experiences about the challenges and opportunities we face in creating a healthy nation. Please join us as we celebrate National Public Health Week, April 6-12, 2009, and work to build a solid foundation for a healthy America.
— Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), executive director of the American Public Health Association