Two powerhouses of public health took the stage together during GPHA’s Annual Meeting and Conference on Tuesday, March 11 in Atlanta. Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, Commissioner of the GA Dept. of Public Health, sat down with Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control to ask questions submitted by conference attendees.
Topics ranged from e-cigarettes, to education, to vaccinations. When asked about the social movement against immunizations, Dr. Frieden said “We understand how concerned people are. We understand that people are concerned about putting any substances in their body.” Frieden added, “But we also understand that the vaccines are safe and effective and that they’ve been used millions and millions of times. I make sure my own kids get vaccinated, and that we all get vaccinated for the flu each year.” He advocated for finding thought leaders in communities who can help public health spread the message about vaccine safety and importance.
Another question surrounded CDC’s role in workforce development. Frieden pointed to the CDC’s Public Health Associates Program (PHAP) as a major focus. PHAP is a two-year, competitive, paid training program that gives participants hands-on experience in state and local health departments in preparation for possible careers in public health. “This is a modernization of the public health advisory program that was discontinued 20 years ago. That program, which got to 200 per year, had an experience of 50% of the people who went through the 2-year program staying in public health, with 50% of those staying at the state or local level,” explains Frieden. “Thats an infusion of skills, enthusiasm and new perspectives. They are the next generation of not just workers, but also leaders in public health.”
Frieden closed the discussion with a reminder of the great opportunities that exist to enact real public health change. “The biggest thing for us all to keep in mind is that changing health is not like changing the weather,” said Frieden. ” With weather, you can describe it, you might be able to predict it, but you certainly can’t change what’s going to happen. With health, we can control it. We have within our communities the ability to determine wether people live long and healthy lives. Whether it’s with investments of resources, or trying new policies, or linking with healthcare systems, or identifying what issue can be addressed in each community and choosing one thing and really making it better – in working together we can help Georgia get much healthier.”