Hello and welcome to the third installment of my miniseries on how to prevent future pandemics! There are a lot of different aspects to preventing future pandemics, but I will focus on four main areas: vaccinations, infrastructure, public health infrastructure, and research. We’ll focus on one of these areas over the course of four different posts. This post will focus on public health infrastructure.
Public health infrastructure refers to local, state, federal, and international public health organizations and departments. Without these organizations and departments, it would be impossible for us to track what’s happening across an enormous country like the Unites States, let alone the world. According to healthypeople.gov, “Public health infrastructure provides communities, states, and the Nation [and the world] the capacity to prevent disease, promote health, and prepare for and respond to both acute (emergency) threats and chronic (ongoing) challenges to health. Infrastructure is the foundation for planning, delivering, evaluating, and improving public health.”1 Here are examples of public health infrastructure at the local, state, federal, and international levels:
- Local—Tri-County Health Department (https://www.tchd.org/). Tri-County Health Department serves Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties in Colorado. It “offers over 60 programs/services ranging from birth certificates, immunizations and health care referrals to restaurant inspections and infectious disease investigations [this is extremely relevant right now], from 11 offices in this 3,000 square mile area. The agency’s jurisdiction includes 26 municipalities and three unincorporated counties, 15 school districts with more than 360 public schools, 12 acute care hospitals, three federally qualified healthcare centers with multiple facilities, three community mental health service providers and one regional collaborative care organization (Colorado Access).”2 This agency is one of many around the country responsible for managing the day-to-day happenings for the local areas. These agencies usually exist at the county level but may also exist in larger cities as well.
- State—Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (https://www.colorado.gov/cdphe). The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is responsible for overseeing public health activities for the entire state of Colorado. They are responsible for identifying and overseeing work toward public health goals, such as Healthy Colorado. “Healthy Colorado: Shaping a State of Health is Colorado’s plan for improving public health and the environment from 2015-2019. It provides evidence-based strategies and helps guide actions with the ultimate goal of making measurable and lasting improvements for Coloradans.”3 They are also responsible for public records (e.g., birth and death certificates), laboratory services, and emergency preparedness. They are the main source of information for the State of Colorado during this COVID-19 pandemic. Each state and territory within the United States has its own state level public health agency.
- Federal—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (https://www.cdc.gov/). The CDC’s mission: “CDC works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same. CDC increases the health security of our nation. As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. To accomplish our mission, CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and response when these arise.”4 The CDC helps to coordinate responses from a federal level between all of the states. It provides support to all of the states and territories within the country.
- International—World Health Organization (WHO) (https://www.who.int/). “WHO works worldwide to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable…Through our work, we address: human capital across the life-course, noncommunicable diseases prevention, mental health promotion, climate change in small island developing states, antimicrobial resistance, [and] elimination and eradication of high-impact communicable diseases.”5 WHO also addresses health emergencies by: “identifying, mitigating and managing risks, prevent emergencies and support development of tools necessary during outbreaks, detect and respond to acute health emergencies, support delivery of essential health services in fragile settings.”5 The WHO is responsible for monitoring situations around the world that may have an impact across international borders.
Each of these levels serves a vital role in our effort to combat diseases at home and around the world. They work in concert with each other to protect us from outbreaks. A breakdown anywhere in the chain results in a vulnerability in our communities. Investing in these organizations at varying levels is investing in our frontline defense in identifying and responding to diseases with the potential to turn into pandemics. Public health professionals are committed to protecting your health and public health infrastructure allows them to do just that.
What you can do:
- The State of Colorado is currently looking for volunteers to assist in the response effort. They’re looking for people to deliver food, medication, medical supplies, and more. Visit https://helpcoloradonow.org/#volunteer-or-donate for more information.
- Many public health infrastructure projects are decided upon and developed at the state and local levels. Additionally, public health infrastructure at the federal and international level are determined in federal elections.
- Healthy People.Gov. Public Health Infrastructure.https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/public-health-infrastructure
- Tri-County Health Department. About Tri-County Health Department. https://www.tchd.org/236/About
- Colorado Department of Public Health. Colorado: Local Public Health and Environmental Resources. Shaping a state of health. https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe-lpha/shaping-a-state-of-health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About CDC 24-7. Mission, Role and Pledge. https://www.cdc.gov/about/organization/mission.htm
- World Health Organization. What we do. https://www.who.int/about/what-we-do