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APHA annual meeting attendees examine politics, policy, health: about 14,000 public health workers gather.

Public health professionals have a vital role to play in tackling the world's health inequalities, and addressing the politics of policy decisions can help advance that work, according to health leaders who spoke at APHA's 135th Annual Meeting in November.

The Washington, D.C., meeting, which attracted more than 14,000 participants, had a theme of "Politics, Policy and Public Health," which underscored the importance of advocacy and working closely with policy-makers at all levels of government to support public health.

Such support is especially critical at the global level, according to Pulitzer Prizewinning author Laurie Garrett, PhD, who spoke at the Annual Meeting opening session. Before a crowd of more than 6,000 people, Garrett outlined the growing inequalities between the rich and poor countries of the world.


"We have societies where people know their great-grandchildren, and we have societies in which people don't get to see their own children grow to adults," said Garrett, who is a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The widespread concentration on combating HIV/AIDS in poor countries has thrown progress on other health issues "wildly off course," Garrett said. While global public health work used to focus mainly on issues such as safe water and sanitation, much of the work force and program funding is now aimed solely at HIV/AIDS, she said. Also, many poor countries are struggling with a lack of health infrastructures that is exacerbated as their health workers are drawn to other, richer countries for more pay, she noted.

"We don't have an HIV crisis in the world," Garrett said. "We have a health worker crisis."

Inequalities also continue to play a role on health status within the United States, said Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the opening session. The United States spends the most on health care, Gerberding noted, "yet we are not at the top of the heap when it comes to health status." Gerberding called for increased focus on health promotion for all, a united health system and equal access to health benefits to create a "new vision" for U.S. health care.

"We can be a healthiest nation; it's technically possible," Gerberding said. "But we're not there yet."

Health inequalities also extend to the state and local level, such as in the District of Columbia--the host city for the Annual Meeting, which has a higher rate of HIV/AIDS than any other city in the nation. In his opening session remarks, D.C. Department of Health Interim Director Carlos Cano, MD, noted that the life expectancy for black males in the District of Columbia mirrors that of some developing countries.

"Living in Washington, D.C., you are mindful of the policy consequences of everything you do," he said.

The Annual Meeting's focus on politics and health policy was carried on throughout the five days of the conference in scientific sessions on the topic (see Page 26). Overall, meeting sessions spanned a range of public health issues as well as social activities and networking events.

The relationship between climate change and public health drew much attention during the meeting's four days, including a number of scientific sessions on the topic as well as an announcement that climate change would be the focus of this year's National Public Health Week (see Page 4).

At a news conference held Nov. 6 in the Washington Convention Center, APHA's Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), told reporters that the Association was launching a major new initiative aimed at highlighting the connections between health and climate change in a run-up to this year's National Public Health Week observance, "Climate Change: Our Health in the Balance."

"While a number of efforts have addressed various aspects of public health and climate change, until now the approach has been scattered," said Benjamin in an APHA news release. "(This) April, a formal list of recommendations for addressing this unprecedented challenge will be distributed to every public health professional in the nation. We will focus on the United States, but recognize it is a global concern."

Benjamin said that it is time for public health to make its voice known and take its "seat at the table" in regard to the climate change discussion.

APHA also was part of a news conference held during the Annual Meeting at the National Press Club to release rankings of the healthiest U.S. states. For the first time, Vermont led the list (see Page 14).

The public health effects of war and conflict drew crowds of Annual Meeting attendees downtown to the AFL-CIO building to view the photo exhibit "Unembedded: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq." The exhibit, which was sponsored by APHA as well as the Association's Peace and Labor Caucuses, featured photographs of the effects of war on both Iraqis and American soldiers. Alongside each photo was detailed descriptions on Iraq's deteriorating health infrastructure, the poor health of its people as well as the health and medical challenges facing American soldiers in Iraq and when they return home.


Meeting benefits now continue online

Even if they weren't able to attend the APHA Annual Meeting this year, public health professionals can still take in some of the sessions online. The Alabama Department of Public Health will be providing Web broadcasts of sessions that focused on global health and the National Public Health Performance Standards Program online at Additionally, the Kaiser Family Foundation has videos and podcasts of sessions that address topics such as Medicaid, recovery on the U.S. Gulf Coast and national health care available on its Kaiser Network. To access the Kaiser sessions, visit www.kaiser hcast_index.cfm?display= detail&hc=2433.


Annual Meeting participants who signed up for APHA's E-ssentialLearning program can now view slides and hear audio from about 2,000 scientific presentations made at the meeting. Information on the program is available online at meetings.

Medscape news coverage of Annual Meeting sessions addressing climate change, post-traumatic stress disorder and multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, among others, can be accessed online at www. program/8100. The Medscape site will also be offering online continuing education courses that cover information presented at the APHA Annual Meeting (see Page 5).

Information from the meeting is also available via the new APHA Annual Meeting blog. The blog, which remains online at www.aphaannualmeeting., covers a variety of scientific sessions, meeting events--such as the opening session and Public Health Expo--and special events, such as the Unembedded photography exhibit. The blog also features an entry on an HIV/AIDS march and speak-out organized by the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association during the Annual Meeting.

Such advocacy is important to advancing the cause of public health, meeting speakers stressed. New APHA President Linda Degutis, DrPH, MSN, encouraged APHA members to advocate and educate for public health priorities.

"Step into advocacy and don't be intimidated by those with more money and power," Degutis told attendees at the meeting's closing session.

CNN medical journalist Sanjay Gupta, MD, also called on meeting participants to become advocates. Gupta, who is on the board of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, spoke on behalf of scheduled speaker Lance Armstrong, who was unable to attend the meeting because of advocacy work in Texas on behalf of cancer funding.

Gupta noted that while one-third of cancer deaths can be prevented with prevention, screening and early detection techniques, federal funding for cancer research has been cut.

The 2008 APHA Annual Meeting, which will have a theme of "Public Health Without Borders," will be held Oct. 25-29 in San Diego. The process for submitting abstracts for presentation at the 2008 meeting is now under way (see Page 4).

For more on APHA Annual Meetings, visit

RELATED ARTICLE: As heard at the annual meeting: notable quotes from speakers.

"It can be done, it must be done."--APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), on the need to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program, eliminate health disparities and improve the public health infrastructure

"We've become such a society of disease treatment, instead of a culture of prevention." --Sanjay Gupta, MD, CNN medical journalist


"The canary in the coal mine is local jurisdictions."--APHA member Lillian Shirley, MPH, MPA, director of the Multnomah County Health Department, Ore., on where public health workers should focus their climate change work

"This is probably the most important corporate decision this body has made in decades."--Beth Benedict, DrPH, JD, RN, chair of APHA's Constitution and Bylaws Committee, after the Governing Council voted to merge the APHA Constitution and Bylaws into one document

"Politicians love talking to students. They want to hear what you think and what issues motivate you."--author Brad Fitch, speaking at a Student Assembly workshop

"Quite simply, underage drinking places the future well-being and productivity of our kids at stake."--Acting U.S. Surgeon General Steven K. Galson, MD, MPH, at a session on underage drinking

"I trust that those who have not taken part in this assessment will, because it's a worthwhile effort."--APHA member Cynthia Eldridge-Davis, MS, health commission manager for the Kansas City, Mo., Health Department, in reference to the National Public Health Performance Standards Program
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Title Annotation:MEETING FINDINGS: Research presented at APHA's Annual Meeting
Publication:The Nation's Health
Date:Dec 1, 2007
Previous Article:Urban American Indians, Alaska Natives struggle with growing disparities in health status.
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