Childproof caps. Stop lights. Unleaded gasoline. Sanitation systems. Prenatal care. Seatbelts. Immunizations.
These are just a few public health achievements being recalled and reiterated this week during National Public Health Week. Hundreds of events are taking place at agencies, in schools and other community to mark the week, events that focus on injury prevention, health prevention and harm reduction.
For nearly 20 years, the American Public Health Association (APHA)—the largest and most diverse public health organization in the world—-has been the lead promoter of National Public Health Week. Its purpose is to “help raise awareness of the value of strong public health systems to our health, our lives and our pocketbooks.” Georges Benjamin, MD, the Executive Director of APHA is encouraging event organizers to ask their audiences: “What would our lives and communities look like without public health?”
These events are very much local in nature. The Macomb County, Michigan Health Department, for example, is providing a place for residents to dispose of medications and household hazardous waste. In Sheboygan, Wisconsin, local fire stations are the sites of the community-wide bike helmet sale and fitting event. The University of North Dakota’s student public health association is hosting an alternative bake sale to promote alternative eating habits. And in Nebraska, ModeShift Omaha is teaming with the University of Nebraska’s College of Public Health for a viewing of the film “Taken for a Ride” and a discussion of local transportation policy.
Organizers of National Public Health Week developed five special themes that organizations could use to focus their messages. The themes cover safety at home, in schools and workplaces, and community design and transportation. The Yates County New York Health Department used the five themes to develop a simple 2-page tip sheet of do-it-yourself public health activities. For the home, the agency recommends checking smoke detectors and testing for radon; in the workplace, they remind residents to follow all safety regulations and address risks for workplace violence; and for the community, they urge support for smoke-free policies. The Fairfax County Virginia Health Department had a similar same idea, and I’m sure others did as well.
In a video message marking the week, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA said, “good health doesn’t happen by chance.” I agree, and prevention which can contribute to good health doesn’t happen by chance either. It takes the firefighters in Sheboygan talking with school children about wearing bike helmets. It takes the staff of Macomb County to publicize the reason and the way to dispose safely of medications. It’s about people and prevention. That’s public health this week, and year round.