Is The Lack of Public Health Education Putting Us All at Risk


After the 9/11 terrorism attacks, the federal government stepped up to provide funding intended to boost preparedness for future incidents. The government believed that there are new challenges in the modern world, meaning that public health workers now have to be prepared for the possibility of dealing with emergencies that would have never come into play a couple of decades ago.

However, a publication called Emergency Management has reported that increases in funding are slowly being cut, especially for Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) and Cities Readiness Initiative grants that were given to state and local health departments. Although the long-term effects of these funding cuts remain to be seen, below you’ll find a few examples that suggest how shortcomings in public health education, because of funding cuts or otherwise, could be a risk for the population at large.

An HIV Epidemic in Southern States

An article from USA Today examined the links between higher incidences of people living with HIV in states that are especially stricken with poverty. A deeper analysis showed how places in the South with the largest percentages of people living with HIV also were among those with the lowest income levels. In some southern counties that are especially affected, as many as one in five HIV-infected individuals live below the poverty line.

In certain Southern states, experts from Human Rights Watch say that lack of education is to blame, and that less than half of all infected people are currently receiving treatment or have undergone testing. In other areas, people are fearful of the unknown, and afraid that community members will find out about the infection and shun them, especially in areas of the Bible Belt. These revelations are particularly dangerous even for people who are not currently infected, since studies have shown that taking medication properly can reduce a person’s probability of transmitting the infection to a partner by 96%.

Problems with Measles

In areas of the United Kingdom, a measles epidemic has put the need to follow immunization schedules back into the spotlight. However, in 2011, the problem reached the United States, particularly in Minnesota. Several cases of measles resulted, and the Imagine 2050 blog reported that about half of them were from the Somali community. Some people believe that the outbreak was partially motivated by misinformation distributed by British doctor Andrew Wakefield, who is infamous for fueling the fire that immunizations are responsible for autism, although that link has never been proven. The Imagine 2050 blog post stated how Wakefield visited the Somali community in Minnesota more often than health officials did, which may have helped spark the trend of not getting children immunized.

Researchers Uncover “Glaring Void” in Flu Prevention

The peak of seasonal flu has now passed, but an article from PRNewswire details how two medical mask manufacturers in the United States have drawn attention to what they call a “glaring void” in preventing the spread of the flu. A study from the Journal of Infectious Diseases found that some people are capable of spreading the flu virus up to six feet after coughing or sneezing, which could put healthcare workers and others in a hospital environment at risk for also contracting the flu. The manufacturers assert that by wearing a mask, individuals could cut down on the rate that flu is transmitted.

As these examples demonstrate, those who strive to educate others about public health risks not only have to contend with a lack of funding, but also fight back against rampant misinformation and stigma. Therefore, even as a lack of education may put some community members at a higher risk, there’s no “one size fits all” solution.

Tracy Rentz is an avid blogger. Interested in improving public health? You may be interested in USC’s masters in public health degree.

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