The swine flue epidemic has brought public health back into the global spotlight. As a public health student, I’ve been following with great interest many news sources to see what’s the latest information available about how this flu is using globalization to its advantage. This new epidemic really is an example of global health, where we must consider the impacts of various aspects of globalization (travel, trade, etc) have on the world’s health.
I keep thinking about how the various fields of public health will have to work together to help stop this epidemic from causing people to panic. Right now, at the beginning, mostly epidemiologists are doing the ground work, finding the new cases and trying see what links exist and how to stop the flu from spreading. It seems almost timely with my epid final coming up on Tuesday… maybe they’ll use the data as one of the problems on the exam?
The World Health Organization has issued statements about the situation, as has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mexican, Canadian and New Zealand Ministries of Health. Here is where health educators could come in to help curb the spread of the flu – remind people of proper flu-season precautions and that there have been no deaths in the US, New Zealand, or Canada. After more data is gathered, biostatisticians could help crunch the numbers that could help direct resources and target health messages. Those in health management are the ones that would allocate the resources and monitor how the work is being done to curb the epidemic. Health policy people and country health officials are advising various global governments right now about whether to import pork from various places (despite the statements by the WHO and other health officials that fully-cooked pork cannot transmit the virus).
I usually explain public health as a field that people don’t really think about when it’s working (for example, not as many cavities nationally since flourine was added to water – a triumph of environmental health). The swine flu epidemic isn’t a failure in public health; it’s an opportunity for us to again prove to the world that we are needed. Working together, including with medical and international relations professionals, public health workers can end these disease outbreaks when they arise, and save as many lives as possible.