Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Public health on the silver screen

Since 1970, the country has seen a downward trend in black lung disease, also known as coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, which is caused by breathing coal dust over a period of time.

But in the last 10 years, we’ve seen the number of cases double. In the film, “Faces of Black Lung,” Annual Meeting attendees heard the stories of coal miners who shared how their lives have changed since being diagnosed.

“I never thought about taking care of myself," said one patient, as he sucked on his oxygen tube for air. "Never thought about X-rays. I just thought about my family.”

Now he can’t say two words without gasping, his labored breathing a symptom of the disease.

Black lung patients were among several voices heard in personal narratives shown on the big screen at a Tuesday afternoon session of the 8th Annual APHA Film Festival. In addition to the coal miners’ stories, today’s session featured films about breast cancer patients, blood cancer survivors, prisoners at risk for HIV, teens concerned with the health of their environments, parents discussing teen driver safety, hospital employees sharing their reasons for getting a flu shot, and Wisconsin health workers explaining how they handled the H1N1 pandemic.

Seven-minute clips of each film were selected for their diversity in addressing a variety of public health concerns.

Two high school students from Brownsville, Texas, narrated the film “Health and Environment Action Network,” which illustrates how the Hispanic community can prevent environmental illness and disease. The film is part of a national and local movement to improve air and water quality. Produced by the Brownsville Community Health Center, the film shows public health experts concerned about air quality working in Brownsville and other border towns.

“We see a lot of truck traffic here,” said one resident. “People should keep their young children indoors in the early morning when traffic is heavy.”

A rough cut of the film “Designing Healthy Communities” showed how an unhealthy physical environment can shorten our lifespan by as much as five years. For example, living in a city like Riverside, Calif., can increase the risk of lung disease by 30 percent, experts warned.

In “No Warning Shots,” which was produced by the Center for Health Justice, health workers are shown visiting prison populations in California to discuss the risks and realities of HIV and AIDS. The video is shown to new prisoners in the state.

The Wisconsin Division of Public Health produced “Facing a Pandemic: Wisconsin’s Response to 2009 H1N1 Influenza,” a documentary that takes the viewer on a step-by-step journey of how the state handled a public health emergency and won.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society produced “Paths to Recovery: Stories from Two Blood Cancer Survivors” to show the daily struggles of patients.

“It never goes away entirely, even when it’s in remission,” said one patient. “There’s still no cure.”

Don't miss tomorrow's film festival showing, session 5160, at 12:30 p.m.

— L.R.

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