Media Mention

Tom Ridge: Price paid by America for neglecting public health

July 9, 2020

Note: this piece was originally published in USA Today, and was co-authored by Checks & Balances member Tom Ridge. 

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.

After the Great Recession and long before COVID-19 began to spread throughout the world, budget pressures resulted in the elimination of more than 55,000 jobs from state, local, tribal and territorial departments of health, 19% of the total workforce.  Crucial vaccination and testing programs were reduced or shut down.  Labs were shuttered.  Data collection systems remained on pen, paper and fax machine.

Into this vacuum crept growing skepticism, and with it a resurgence of diseases like measles. We were left dangerously vulnerable to a pandemic, one that public health experts had warned about for decades.

Continue reading at USA Today.

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