Public Health in the Age of the Coronavirus

Around the world, two words are being repeated incessantly right now: salud pública, santé publique, 公共卫生, здравоохранение, folkhälsa.

Public Health. 

In good times, these two words are taken for granted, yet those are the very times when we should be doing all we can to protect it, invest in it and plan for the threats ahead. But human nature inevitably intercedes and competing priorities distract our leaders, policy makers, philanthropists and entrepreneurs. 

And yet, as if on cue, when our priorities wander too far afield, these frightening epidemics have the formidable power to refocus us. The Cholera Outbreak in the 1850s-1860s. The Spanish Flu of 1918. The AIDS epidemic. The COVID-19 Global Pandemic. 

These confounding outbreaks wreak havoc with every facet of life.  Public health historians pay close attention to these moments in time because they are teachable moments, forcing our population, public and private sectors to recenter and focus on what really matters - our health.

As disrupting and lethal as these crises can be, they force us to stop, reevaluate and innovate. We are in one of these cultural moments right now and as disturbing as it is to cope with and successfully respond to, I find myself both personally and professionally, experiencing the sheer shock of a global pandemic while simultaneously remaining optimistic and grateful. 

I’m confident that as we get through this crisis, we will once again refocus on the immediate need for a return to expertise, science-based facts, critically-needed research, significant funding increases for our struggling public health infrastructure and long-overdue respect and compensation for our selfless public health workforce, who are fighting for our lives on the front lines of this war.

I’m certain that once we get the story of this pandemic down in our history books and can look ahead, remarkable change is on the horizon for the field of public health. 

We say that dedicating oneself to this profession is more than a career, it’s a calling. For those who work in public health now, thank you and for those young people who will be so motivated by this crisis to answer this call - know that we need you now more than ever. 

Join us and stay well,

Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH
Dean