By Samer Koutoubi, MD, PhD
Program Director and Faculty Member, Public Health at American Public University
In the past calendar year the U.S. faced a number of public health scares. At the top of the list was Ebola. Moving on into 2015 there are still a number of threats to look out for in the public health arena. In the field of public health we need to strive to constantly keep ourselves informed, as well as informing the public around us. Here is my list of the top priorities in the field for 2015:
1. No More Ebola and Other Infectious Diseases: The Ebola virus outbreak dominated the health news in 2014. All state and local public health clinics should continue to monitor, identify, isolate, evaluate, and treat Ebola cases.
Action: We need to increase our efforts nationally and internationally to combat this deadly disease. It is crucial to increase public health response and funding of preparedness of hospitals in the U.S. not just for Ebola, but for future diseases. Disease outbreaks is one of the greatest risk to our global economy. Let’s continue to secure our global health borders.
2. No More Hospital Infection and Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria: Infections occur in people receiving medical care are on the rise. It is estimated that 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths are due to antibiotic resistance. Hospital-associated infections are when patients receiving medical care at health care facilities (example: hospitals, and nursing homes) also get drug-resistant bacteria called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).
Action: We need strong united surveillance efforts (ongoing systematic collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data) to stop the resistance. This include hospitals, private practices, and public health programs at the state and federal levels. Also, it is crucial for all health care providers to use the “Detect and Protect” approach, to prevent CRE, and follow the specific and practical steps outlined by the CDC to control the spread of CRE.
3. No More Health Disparities: The quality of health care and preventive care is being affected by disparities and inequalities related to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Healthy People 2020 defines ahealth disparity as “a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage. Let’s recognize that social determinants have great impacts on healthcare outcomes.
Action: We need to eliminate the health disparities and the gap in health and preventive care and value every individual equally. Efforts are needed at the local (communities), state, and federal levels to increase the cultural competencies awareness among healthcare professionals.
4. No More Suffering: Let’s care for the elderly populations, especially the ones with Alzheimer’s: In the U.S. we have a steady increase in our elderly population. The number of people 65 years old and older is expected to rise by 101% between 2000 and 2030, at a rate of 2.3% each year. By 2050, it is anticipated that Americans aged 65 or older will number nearly 89 million people (CDC).According to the Alzheimer’s Association, by 2050 Alzheimer’s will be the most expensive disease in the U.S. totaling more than one trillion dollars.
Action: We need to help our elderly population grow older with dignity and make sure that baby boomer generations are ready and prepared for their later life. According to the CDC, 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013. This number will double every 5 years beyond age 65, and by 2050, this number is projected to rise to 14 million, a nearly three-fold increase. In 2010, the costs were projected to fall between $159 and $215 billion. By 2040, these costs are projected to jump to between $379 and more than $500 billion annually. The World Health Organization reported that worldwide, nearly 35.6 million people live with dementia. This number is expected to double by 2030 (65.7 million) and more than triple by 2050 (115.4 million). Treating and caring for people with dementia currently costs the world more than $ 604 billion per year.
5. No More Childhood Obesity, Diabetes, & Chronic Diseases: One in 8 preschoolers is obese in the US. There are 29.1 million people, or 9.3% of the population have diabetes. The epidemic of obesity is very costly. Let’s not forget that diabetes, obesity, and many of the chronic disease are preventable. Life style modifications are needed. For more on these modifications read on for “Fast Facts: Economic Costs of Obesity.”
Action: We all need to do better and increase our educational efforts at the family and community levels. Families should take responsibility by eating healthy foods and engaging in physical activity as a family. We need to engage in a dialog at the state and federal levels and make healthy foods affordable and available in many neighborhoods, especially for families with children. Finally, creating wellness programs including exercise should start at playgrounds, child care centers, and schools.
6. No More Drug Abuse and Overdose: Do you know what is the leading cause of injury death in the U.S.? It is drug overdose. Every day in the U.S., 114 people die as a result of drug overdose, especially from prescription painkillers. These drugs can cause sedation and slow down a person’s breathing and this can lead to death.
Action: We need to protect our public health by focusing on creating a prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) in every state. Also, creating rigorous laws and strategies to monitor drug abuse and overdose. Let’s end this crisis. Forty nine states use some form of PDMPs, with Kentucky having one of the highest success. Due to its PDMP, and since starting the program in 1999, Kentucky has been ranked among the highest nonmedical use of prescription painkillers drop from 2nd place to 31st place. For more information regarding prescription drug monitoring programs, you can visit the Office of Diversion Control.
7. No More Polio: Polio was eradicated in the U.S. in 1979 but challenges still exist to eradicate polio globally. Poliovirus has been spreading globally to areas previously declared as polio-free areas. This is a major public health concern. Polio can spread through coughing and sneezing and children can be protected when receiving 4 doses of the inactivated polio vaccine at ages 2, 4, 6, and 18 months, and 4 to 6 years.
Action: We need to work with our international and global partners to continue to increase our immunization efforts to end polio. Polio can be prevented and the polio vaccine can save lives. Let’s do it for our children and future generation.
8. No More E-cigarettes Among Teenagers: The use of e-cigarettes among teenagers (middle and high school students) is on the rise. According to the 2014 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the use of e-cigarettes is high among teens (for 8th graders is 8.7 percent, for 10th graders is 16.2 percent, and for 12th graders is 17.1 percent). This is a dangerous trend and it is not normal and should be stopped immediately. Smoking e-cigarettes will open the door among teenagers to smoking real cigarettes again. According to NIH, e-cigarettes contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals. The e-cigarette vapor produces tiny particles that go directly to the lungs causing damage and may cause cancer (the vapor contain known carcinogens and toxic chemicals (example include formaldehyde and acetaldehyde).
Action: We need strict guidelines that regulate the purchase and use of e-cigarettes the same way it does tobacco products, especially among teenagers. Regular cigarette smoking-related diseases are preventable. Let’s prevent the unknown long-term effects of e-cigarettes now before it is too late.
9. No More Economic Insecurity: Food insecurity can have a huge impact on managing chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. The American Dietetic Association defined food security as “access by all people, at all times to sufficient food for an active and healthy life includes at a minimum: the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” Families who have difficulties purchasing food, and managing daily life activities such as meal planning, are at a higher risk of developing and managing chronic diseases.
Action: We need to pay greater attention to the social determinates of health, especially among low-income families with chronic diseases. Nutrition education campaigns at local communities and health care centers are key to success. Let’s develop strong public health policies at the local, state, and federal levels, to address the social determinants of health such as social, physical, environmental, and economical factors.
10. No More Environmental Hazards: Our health is closely related to our environment. Environmental hazards have been linked to many chronic diseases. Environmental hazards ranges from natural disasters, toxic chemical pollutants, to electromagnetic fields and toxic metals.
Action: We need to develop key tracking systems at local. State, and federal levels, on the known and suspected association between the environmental hazards and diseases. Let’s protect our people and our communities by giving them educational resources on key environmental risk factors. Let’s take care of our environment, improve the quality of life of our communities, and prevent the environmental-related diseases.
About the Author
Dr. Koutoubi faculty member in the public health program at American Public University. He earned his PhD in Dietetics and Nutrition from Florida International University in 2001. He earned his MD degree in 1988 from Iuliu Hațieganu University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Dr. Koutoubi’s research focuses on coronary heart disease among tri-ethnic groups including African Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics. His interest is in disease prevention and wellness, epidemiological research, cardiovascular disease and nutrition, homocysteine metabolism, lipoprotein metabolism, and cultural food and health. He has also authored a number of articles in peer-reviewed journals and wrote a book review. He served as the Editor-in-Chief for The Internet Journal of Alternative Medicine and reviewed manuscripts for The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Ethnicity and Disease Journal, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and The Journal of The National Medical Association. Dr. Koutoubi has also been quoted in national magazines and newspapers including, Natural Health Magazine, Energy Time, Well Being Journal, Northwest Prime Time, and Natural Food Merchandiser.