A recent survey revealed Americans believe only 35 percent of children across the globe are vaccinated for preventable diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. While the true number is 86 percent of children worldwide who are vaccinated for these conditions, this pessimistic survey result illuminates many misperceptions around the success of public health protection efforts.
Another reminder of misperceptions around the success of public health interventions is this year’s alarming upsurge in measles cases — there have been more than 200 cases in the first two months of this year in the United States, which is considerably more than in all of 2017. This year’s outbreaks emphasize the lack of understanding around and appreciation for proven public health interventions, like vaccines.
The true aim of protecting the public’s health is to improve the lives of all people. And we have seen significant improvement in this arena over the last several decades, in measures such as increased life expectancy and lowered poverty rates across the world.
However, with the outdated view of the success of public health programs such as uptake in vaccinations, reduction in HIV infections and a reduction in smoking rates in many nations, now is not the time to step back from our investments. Instead, we need to build on our successful investments and programs that have proven effective in protecting the public’s health.
As we do so, we must start any and all conversation around public health with the knowledge that progress does not occur in a silo or without collaboration, whether it be through conducting research, implementing education programs, recommending policies or administering public health services.
The government has unique capacities as well as limitations. The same is true for the private and philanthropic sectors. The only true way to solve today’s public health problems and emergencies is through public-private partnerships. Individuals, groups and organizations have greater positive impact and can accomplish more collectively than individually.
By aligning diverse interests and resources and leveraging all parties’ strengths, focused collaborations with private and philanthropic partners — along with federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — help create greater impact than any one entity can achieve alone.
It is critical to understand the severity of the public health challenges we face — natural disasters, infectious and chronic diseases, lack of clean water — and how swift and sustained a response is required to address these. Public-private partnerships are able to cut through bureaucratic red tape and be on the ground quickly in a disaster zone, raise the required funds and respond to specific, targeted needs. As we continue to think about effective response efforts, it is also imperative we rely on proven public-private partnership models that we know are successful.
In fall 2014, for instance, the West Africa Ebola outbreak killed thousands on the continent and spread to the United States. It dominated the headlines for weeks, stoked fear in the country and paralyzed many industries, including travel and hospitals. By collaborating together, the public, private and philanthropic sectors were able to beat back Ebola.
In 2018, Ebola returned to the Congo, and many public health experts have called for an international public health emergency. Additionally, in the United States and other areas of the world, chronic diseases, such as hypertension, are killing millions each year. Fortunately, there are practical solutions we can implement across sectors together to tackle both emerging and persistent health challenges.
While there is no one size-fits-all strategy, I believe philanthropy in public health needs to remain focused on eliminating diseases, preventing the next problem from happening and responding to emergencies and natural disasters.
The good news is that philanthropies and the private sector are contributing more on an annual basis. They believe that addressing our world’s most pressing public health challenges saves lives and protects the health, safety and security of America and the world. Let’s not slow down now.
Judith Monroe, MD, is the president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.
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