Reimagining public health in aftermath of COVID-19

Aug. 24, 2020

COVID-19 caught public health systems in the U.S. unprepared to detect, track and contain the virus. The pandemic has exposed a multitude of deficiencies that require a wholesale reinvention of the field of public health, according to a recently published essay from the Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL).

The essay suggests the reinvention will take place over the next five years, beginning with three phases of action to deal with the immediate crisis:

·        Manage the crisis and make short-term shifts of resources (0-6 months) — Streamline current phase, in which testing is limited and trials have begun on vaccines.

·         Maintain initial gains (7-18 months) — Testing becomes widespread and public health needs vary widely by region.

·         Sustain and enhance progress (18-60 months) — A safe and effective vaccine becomes widely available. The public health system is rebuilt and reprioritized as the nation prepares for the next pandemic.

The authors list four factors that are needed to change public health:

·         Leadership and political will: A new generation of leaders should be developed to promote evidence as a basis for practice and policy, persuade the public and advocate for public health.

·         A rethinking of how to address population-level health risks and how to allocate resources accordingly: The fields of medicine and public health should be viewed as interconnected and the social determinants of health prioritized.

·         The reinvention of core public health systems: Modern data sciences should be brought to bear on health surveillance and tracking that includes the social determinants of health, contact tracing and risk communication.

·         New communication skills and processes: A better segmentation of audiences and targeted communication are needed to provide trusted information, counter misinformation and emphasize the prevention of disease as a key to public health.

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