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Public Health Measures to Reform Health Care in America

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Public Health measures to reform health care in America

We all know that this country has a system of doctors and hospitals to take care of us when we get sick. What many people don't know is that there also is a system that keeps us healthy. It works in the ways that we aren't usually aware of. It's the public health system. Everyday you see headlines about public health in the newspaper. But you probably don't even recognize that the headlines reflect a public health system at work. Public health protects you and keeps you and your loved ones safe and healthy. Everyday. Day after day.

There are several public health measures that need to be actively engaged in order to help reform health care in America. Public health measures focus on the population, sanitation, disease control, infant mortality, nutrition, occupational health, and environmental health.

Modern sanitation was one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the late 19th and early 20th century. Contamination of drinking water supplies by human waste is a cause of many deadly infectious diseases, including cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever. It remains a problem in undeveloped countries, and we all witnessed the great concern about disease when the December, 2004 tsunami wiped out sanitation systems in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

The nation's public health system continues to provide proper waste disposal and safe drinking water. These are prime examples of how public health, which take care of one person at a time. Public health works to keep entire populations healthy, and when it fails, entire populations suffer.

Hopefully, you go to your dentist regularly and follow directions to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Flouridation of the public drinking water supply, which began in 1945, is a major public health accomplishment. It has resulted in a 40-70% reduction of tooth decay in children and a 40-60% reduction in tooth loss in adults. However, 40% of the U.S. population, still live in areas without a fluoridated water supply.

After you dressed, did you stop for breakfast? Did you have orange juice, or perhaps scrambled eggs, or maybe a bagel with cream cheese? The only reason you can be sure that your orange juice, eggs and cream cheese are not contaminated with bacteria that would make you sick is that public health regulates the safety of your food supply. We also teach and promote safe food handling practices that kill bacteria and help you and those who handle your food from contaminating it.

Sometimes, despite everybody's best efforts, outbreaks of disease caused by contaminated food occur. The public health system then does detective work to find the source of the contamination and to stop it. We apply the methods of epidemiology to learn what the sick people have in common and locate the source of the contamination. Then we make sure that all contaminated food is removed from the supply.

Did you have cereal for breakfast? If you are a woman who might become pregnant, your cereal, fortified with folic acid, will help prevent some serious birth defects. Folic acid supplementation in things you eat every day, like cereal, is an important public health measure to prevent birth defects.

After you had your safe, and hopefully healthy, breakfast, did you or your neighbors send children off to a day care center or school? It is the public health system that works to make sure that children are fully immunized, so that they cannot catch or transmit measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, polio, or other childhood diseases that are killers when they go to school or day care. We are all too young to remember a time early in the 20th century when tens of thousands of children died or were permanently disabled by these diseases. These days, the numbers of people who contract vaccine-preventable diseases are 95 to 100% fewer than before the vaccines were available.

Immunizations are a great public health success and we work vigilantly to make sure these wonderful statistics stay that way. It takes a continuous effort to make sure that all infants and school children get their shots. We monitor vaccination rates, actively seek out unimmunized children, and offer shots in our clinics. We cannot afford to stop, lest immunization rates once again decline.

Did you drive to work today? If so, did you buckle up your seatbelt? Motor vehicle safety is not just a transportation or law enforcement issue. It is also a public health issue. Public health works hard to promote the use of seatbelts, child safety seats, and motorcycle and bicycle helmets, all of which prevent deaths from injury.

When you arrived at your office, it probably didn't even cross your mind that no one is smoking. Decades of public health research and action have led to our knowledge that tobacco use kills and to many actions designed to reduce smoking, including clean indoor air regulations.

It's lunch-time. Did you go out to eat?



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