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Looking forward, looking back: health in the new year.

GREETINGS to all and to your families and coworkers as we begin a new year, perhaps a new era in our history, and a yearlong journey together through this column. For those of you who do not know me, I am a public health nurse and an educational administrator. I am proud to be the first APHA president from Alaska as we celebrate our 50th year of statehood and the first to follow a family member--my twin sister Carol Easley Allen--as APHA president. I look forward to meeting many of you as I visit state and regional public health association meetings and to hearing of your successes and challenges in promoting public health as 2009 unfolds.

The beginning of a new year always evokes the image of the mythological two-faced god Janus who looks at both the past and the future. He reminds me of the advice of our Alaska Native elders that we must retain the wisdom of the old while at the same time we embrace the new. Consistent with this idea, the traditional Alaska Native healer exists beside a new practitioner, the dental health aide therapist, who brings oral primary care to remote villages.

The economic distress that confronts our nation and the world may cause us to reconnect with some old values regarding our relationship to things and to reconsider some old ideas about sacrifice--a word that we seem to be hearing more often--and our responsibilities to each other. I hope it will also give us the wisdom to recommit ourselves to the foundational ideals of protection and improvement of the public's health while we work to ensure that they are embraced in whatever form a new structuring of health care delivery will take.

It is ironic that the very circumstance that has made major change palatable to many Americans means that we must accomplish reasoned revision in the midst of a many-faceted crisis, one that diverts our focus to jobs, banks, retirement accounts and mortgages. Our challenge as public health advocates during the foreseeable future is to make sure that legislators and policy-makers understand that strengthening public health is critically intertwined with the resolution of economic and other social issues, that population health is more than the assurance of individual access to health care, and that rebuilding of the public health infrastructure is every bit as important as attending to roads and bridges.

In 2009, many of us will need to establish ties with new state and national leaders and their staff members and to form new coalitions for action and advocacy. President-elect Barack Obama's plan for reforming health includes explicit ideas for "promoting prevention and strengthening public health." Now it is our turn to hold our new president to those aspirations and to participate in the realization for the good of all our populations. The time before us opens a breathtaking opportunity for change and renewal unprecedented in our lifetimes. Let's make the most of it.

Cheryl Easley, PhD, RN

president@apha.org
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Title Annotation:VITAL SIGNS: Perspectives of the president of APHA
Author:Easley, Cheryl
Publication:The Nation's Health
Date:Dec 1, 2008
Words:499
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