Making the Right Connections
Strengthening Public Health’s Infrastructure with Non-Traditional Partnerships
There’s nothing more disheartening for a public health professional or healthcare provider than observing health inequity, in my opinion.
A cumulative result of a complex range of factors — biological, social and lifestyle — the disparities between races and genders regularly surface in research articles, policy papers and occasionally in mainstream media. But unless you’re already aware, it’s usually buried under debates over universal healthcare coverage or the staggering annual expenditure on healthcare. Both contribute to our country’s health disparities; all three intertwined to propagate a vicious cycle of health inequity resulting in costly, inefficient health care to a majority of its consumers.
Individuals throughout the world and Americans specifically have benefited from advances in healthcare and public health for the past few decades. As a result, average Americans are living well into their 70s and 80s. This new normal, however, is also a double-edged sword.
Older populations are at higher risk for chronic disease. Chronic disease, typically managed with prescription drugs and adjustments in lifestyle, has been particularly problematic in the developed world after infectious diseases were, for the most part, kept in check. Interestingly enough, as success grew in public health and medicine, both became more prominent and empowered by consumers. Society came to rely on healthcare providers and allied health professionals; they reacted and responded to illness after it manifested.
Our society’s reliance on the healthcare system is problematic and I strongly believe a societal shift in our collective psyche has to move from being reactive to proactive to improve health equity. Each of us has to be accountable for our own health and well-being. We need to be active partners with healthcare providers and public health professionals rather than passive consumers waiting for instruction and care. Through community organization, mobilization and empowering each other, I believe our society’s psyche can evolve.
Community organizing and mobilizing were taken to new heights in 2007 when then Senator Obama ran for president. Armed with thousands of volunteers engaging local communities nationwide, his campaign’s success hinged on a collective voice filled with hope; hope for a better future for all, not just the advantaged minority. Grassroots mobilization was the answer to civic apathy. And it can be the answer again to re-prioritize health in our society.
Leveraging the extensive reach of social networks, my vision is to identify and build relationships with existing grassroots infrastructures in each city. Together with community leaders, we can educate local communities how important health and well-being is for not only themselves, their friends and families, but for the country as a whole.
Raising awareness with grassroots community leaders is the first step. Continued engagement and training opportunities in health education and advocacy strategies to those local leaders will empower them to pass new skills to other community members. The ripples of change will gradually spread; a new culture of health, where consumers become active partners in their health and well-being will emerge.
And once society can re-prioritize health in their own lives, discussions about reducing health disparities can soon follow.