Opinion: We should appreciate our public health workers

“Thank you to our public health professionals working day and night to keep us safe.”

Usually National Public Health Week comes and goes without notice, just as everyday public health work is taken for granted. This year however, in light of the unthinkable — yet predictable — novel coronavirus pandemic, people previously oblivious have a greater understanding and a new appreciation of public health science and the public health system. Even those complacent about immunizations, are now anxious for a new vaccine.

Public health is about preventing infectious diseases, like smallpox and polio of yesterday, and tuberculosis, gonorrhea, influenza, and now the dreaded COVID-19 today. It’s also about preventing heart disease, diabetes, strokes, battling the opioid epidemic, and more. It involves continuous planning and training for public health emergency preparedness and response.

The success of public health relies on a strong infrastructure. In recent years, this infrastructure has been jeopardized by budget cuts at both the federal and state level. Budget cuts in Alaska have taken a toll on Public Health Nursing, resulting in loss of staff, reduction of services, and closures of public health centers. Luckily, supplemental state and federal funding will help to regain the capacity needed to address COVID-19.

By supporting public health and listening to experts like our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink, we’ll get through this, but we can’t let our guard down. We must stay vigilant in maintaining a robust public health infrastructure and ensuring an adequate and competent public health workforce in the future. Thank you to our public health professionals working day and night to keep us safe.

Patty Owen,

Alaska Public Health Association Board Member

• Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.