Opinion

Guest Column

Public Health Week, April 1-7

Public Health Week by Warren Featherstone Reid, State Board of Health Chair
Public health's success in protecting the health and safety of Washington residents over the course of this century is a too-well-kept secret. As we approach the 21st century and celebrate Public Health Week, April 1-7, it is time the story became better known, both so we understand where we have been and can plan for our future.
   The mission of public health is to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy. The public health history of the 20th century contains chapters on providing safer and cleaner living and working environments, immunizing populations against infectious diseases, maintaining good nutritional standards, ensuring access to prenatal care, and protecting the quality of our air and water.
   Over the past 100 years, smallpox has been eradicated, polio has virtually disappeared from the Western Hemisphere, sewage and sanitation standards have improved markedly, and infant and child mortality has dropped significantly. Since 1900, the average life expectancy in the U.S. has increased from 45 to 75 years. Public health efforts are responsible for 25 of the 30-year increase.
   Every day, thousands of Washington residents are working to build healthy communities, meet the health needs of diverse populations, plan appropriate responses to natural disasters, educate individuals about workplace hazards, and encourage responsible behavior and healthy lifestyles. Even as we celebrate our successes and recognize our unsung public health heroes who work continuously to protect and promote the health of our communities, there are new opportunities ahead.
   Diseases resulting from alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use result in more deaths than any other single cause. Sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS threaten our young people. Domestic violence, child abuse, and firearms injuries threaten the health of our families. Motor vehicle crashes shorten too many lives. Protecting our environment becomes an increasing challenge as our population grows.
   The Washington State Board of Health has set seven State Priority Health Goals for the next two years. They are:
  1. Reduce preventable infant morbidity and infant mortality.
  2. Reduce the incidence and preventable consequences of infectious diseases.
  3. Control or reduce exposure to hazards in the environment in which we live, work, and play.
  4. Reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.
  5. Reduce the misuse of alcohol and other drugs.
  6. Reduce the incidence of violence and preventable injuries.
  7. Assure access to population-based and personal health services, including health education, preventive services, and illness care.
   Washington's 33 local boards of health provide a positive framework within which community values and professional knowledge can be blended to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy. With their sustained leadership and guidance, Washington's local health departments/districts have brought many successes related to the State Priority Health Goals to their local communities.
   Public health can only succeed in the 21st century if individuals, families, and communities take increasing responsibility for their own health. Opportunities exist throughout Washington for individuals to improve their health, and work with others toward the State's Priority Health Goals. Information on opportunities in your community can easily be obtained by calling the Public Health Clinic at 296-9787, the Environmental Health office at 296-9791, or for information, 296-4600.