Sunday, November 3, 2013

World Series celebration? How ‘bout a public health parade?

An exciting buzz fills the Boston air. People are making quick friends of strangers and running into people they haven’t seen in a while. Can you feel that energy? No, silly, it’s not because the Red Sox just won the World Series. APHA’s 141st Annual Meeting and Exposition has begun! More than 12,000 public health professionals have taken over Beantown, bonded by their shared commitment to making their communities healthier places to live and thrive.

Melanie Gironda, at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, is looking for sessions specific to her research area: Alzheimer’s and dementia care, and elder abuse and neglect. While teaching California dental students about caring for older adults, she said she “was amazed that they didn’t know…elder abuse existed.”

So, Gironda successfully sought a grant to assess dental students’ awareness of elder abuse and then educate them on the issue so they could recognize and report signs of abuse. More recently, she received federal funding to pilot a preventive intervention program for older adults and their caregivers.

“It’s not on people’s radar,” Gironda said. “There are so many different types of elder abuse. One that’s really emerging is financial abuse. There may also be emotional and physical abuse. It’s a complex issue.”

Jean Nkanza, with the Public Health Agency of Canada in Ottawa, is attending his first Annual Meeting. He works in vaccine safety and surveillance and will be a part of a presentation on HPV vaccination in Canada — which does not face the same controversy as it does in the United States.

“In your society, it’s very, very hard,” he said. “We have few health care personnel who are in opposition [to the HPV vaccine]. Most are superb at vaccinating.”

Another first-timer is Harry Alleyn, an epidemiology student at Florida International University. Alleyn flagged several sessions in the APHA app that he’s interested in attending, such as those on infectious diseases, chronic diseases and disparities. He also plans to attend sessions on the Affordable Care Act to learn more about what it offers Americans.

“We plan to have a discussion panel at my school [about ACA], and I want to get a better feel for it,” he said.

Asif Patel of New York City is doing his part to improve global health by starting with the tiny village where he grew up, Mehra BK, India.

“I was educated there through the 10th grade, so I owe something to them,” Patel said. He has started a nutrition program for school clinics in his hometown and credits technology such as Skype with allowing him to stay updated on the program. “The world’s becoming a global village,” he said. “Technology has a very big role to play in public health, and it’s becoming easier now.”

Patel is also interested in nutrition issues in his backyard: “I live in New York, and I live in one of the poorest districts in the United States — the Bronx,” he said. “I’ve observed obesity is a big, big problem. We need more efforts to incorporate healthy nutrition habits among children.”

Kate Jerman is attending the Annual Meeting “mostly” for her first time—she went to a few events in 2012 when the meeting was in her backyard in San Francisco. But this year, she’s all in. She’s fairly new in her position with the maternal and child health program at the University of California, Berkeley, so she is interested in meeting other MCH professionals.

She wants to find ways to recruit students to her program and educate the public better about MCH issues.

“For all the public health issues, part of our challenge is getting our message out and working with the public,” she said.

What do you hope to learn at this year’s meeting? Share in the comments section below.

 — M.P.

(Photos by Melanie Padgett Powers)

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