Wednesday, October 31, 2012

'Policy is an instrument of power'

Without public health, you wouldn’t have clean water to brush your teeth or wash that apple. You'd be much more susceptible to eating foods contaminated with salmonella or E. coli. It'd be hard to know just how much sugar, salt and calories you're consuming without those handy nutrition labels. Imagine being on the road without seat belts, speed limits and impaired driving laws. We don't have to tell readers of this blog that life would be very, very different without effective public health policies.

“Health is a right that needs to be protected and policy is an instrument of power [to protect those rights],” said Erica Di Ruggiero, associate director with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research-Institute of Population and Public Health and chair of the Canadian Public Health Association, during a Tuesday afternoon session on “Experiences & Challenges for Public Health Policy: Do We Make A Difference? The Views from WFPHA, CPHA and APHA.”

Public health associations are instrumental in illustrating why evidence-based public health policies can be so powerful in lifting the health of communities worldwide. To continue on the path toward health equity and make sure all people have access to good health opportunities as well as health care, we need to create awareness and understanding among politicians and the media, Di Ruggiero said. Don't be shy about sharing the compelling stories of public health's many successes. 

APHA Associate Executive Director Susan Polan said during the session that the biggest challenge for public health associations is “making public health a priority. (People) go through (their) days without realizing how public health impacts (their lives).”

Not surprisingly, when people are unaware of the importance of public health policies, there's less support and less government funding available for protecting “food safety, child nutrition, clean air, reproductive health, paid sick leave, and Medicaid and Medicare,” Polan said. The challenge today is to create “a common message and a language for people to understand,” she told attendees.

Director and head of the World Federation of Public Health Associations, Bettina Borisch, emphasized the importance of establishing a union of public health associations that mobilizes voices around the factors that contribute to health inequity. When big countries and smaller countries look to each other’s health care systems for lessons learned and best practices, it encourages other countries to follow suit, she said.

“It’s all about raising the bar so that everyone will have an equal opportunity,” said Di Ruggiero.

To learn more about WFPHA, click here. To find your state or regional public health association, click here.

— T.H.

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