As our nation grapples with the worst public health threat it has ever faced, we do so with a public health infrastructure that is a shadow of what it once was.
Early in the 20th century, public health was part of America’s social contract and was broadly considered by leaders and citizens as a foundational tool to keep us safe. But as the 1918 flu and other epidemics became a distant memory, so, too, did our country’s funding for public health departments.
This erosion has accelerated in today’s hyper-partisan, hyper-connected world, in which public health is lionized or demonized based on ideology rather than science.
The public health profession is responsible for remarkable advances that we take for granted today, including clean water, sanitation and control of infectious diseases. In the past decade alone, public health efforts substantially lowered death rates from vaccine-preventable diseases like rotavirus and pneumonia, childhood lead poisoning, and coronary heart disease and strokes.
And yet, after decades of neglect, spending on public health represents less than 3% of what the country spends on health care annually.
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