Category Archives: Health and Human Services

Jul 23 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: July 23

XIX International AIDS Conference: New HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment Recommendations
Late last week, in advance of the International AIDS Conference meeting this week in Washington, D.C., the World Health Organization recommended using antiretroviral medicines for people who do not have the infection but are at high risk of transmission. And, in a special issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association published this week, the International Antiviral Society has recommended that all HIV patients be treated with antiretroviral drugs, even when the virus’s impact on their immune system is shown to be small. Research by the Society shows that AIDS can lead to other conditions such as cancer and heart and kidney disease. Read more on AIDS.

HHS Announces Public/Private Partnerships to Improve Care for HIV/AIDS Patients
In a speech at the International AIDS conference last night, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced four new initiatives to improve care for HIV/AIDS patients in the United States:

  • Streamlined drug assistance application programs: The program would simplify the process for acquiring HIV/AIDS drugs for people who are eligible for financial assistance. (See a sample form.)
  • UCARE4LIFE: HHS, in partnership with the MAC AIDS Fund, will launch a mobile texting pilot program called UCARE4LIFE to help patients get appointment, medication and other important reminders and tips for managing HIV/AIDS. A two-year pilot project will focus on southern states, where the epidemic is rising fast among young adults.
  • Pharmacy Medication Therapy Management: CDC will partner with pharmacy chain Walgreens to develop a medication therapy management program to model how pharmacies can help patients stay on their medications and in care.
  • Online Physician Training Programs: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is working with continuing medical education firm Medscape, to create new training programs to help healthcare providers improve care for HIV/AIDS patients.

Read a summary of news from the AIDS Conference from Kaiser Health News.

Young Adults Undergoing Cancer Treatment Need More Support
A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center finds that young adults with cancer may not be getting all the social, psychological and information support they need. The researchers surveyed 215 newly diagnosed cancer patients between the ages of 14 and 39 and found that, compared to both children and older adult cancer patients, the mid-age patients have a different set of psychosocial needs and issues and were more likely to report insufficient information on infertility, diet and nutrition. The study was published in the journal Cancer. Read more on cancer.

CDC Study Suggests Policy Interventions to Help Reduce Alcohol Drinking Among Women of Childbearing Age
One in two women and one in 13 pregnant women reported drinking in the past thirty days, according to a recent study published in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The researchers say that both pregnant and non-pregnant women of childbearing age who misuse alcohol might benefit from community level policy interventions, such as increased alcohol excise taxes and limiting alcohol outlet density. Read more on maternal and infant health.

High Tornado Fatality Rate Last Year Prompts Strengthened Prevention before Storms
A review by the CDC of last year’s tornado season found that 338 people suffered tornado related fatalities between April 25 and April 28, 2011 in five states, the third highest rate in U.S. history. The CDC found that about thirty percent of the victims were older adults and a quarter of the deaths occurred in mobile homes. The researchers say use of safe rooms is crucial to preventing tornado-related deaths, and that individuals who work or live in a tornado-prone area should develop a tornado safety plan prior to severe weather. Read more on disasters.

Apr 12 2012
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National Health Promotion Summit

“If we really want to improve health in this country, we need to prevent people from getting sick in the first place — to stop the illness before it starts." That was the closing message of U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin's remarks on the final day of the 2012 National Health Promotion Summit, held April 10 through April 11 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The summit was hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, along with the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research. It included multiple panels and sessions, addressing everything from the impact of community health workers to innovation in community health assessment.

The summit’s ultimate goal was to discuss “national disease prevention and health promotion initiatives,” so the attendees could learn about what was happening around the country, then take those public health lessons home to their own communities. From there, policymakers, health professionals, consumer groups and other organizations can work together to build healthy environments that will help produce healthy individuals.

The best way to advance public health is to create environments, policies and systems where healthy choices are possible, according to Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of the Trust for America's Health. This evidence-based approach leads to more resilient communities that can address multiple health issues.

Read More

Jan 5 2012
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HHS Secretary Sebelius on Department's New Global Health Strategy

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke today at a packed morning session at the Kaiser Family Foundation about the HHS Global Health Strategy, released late last year.

It’s hardly the first time the department has focused on global health, the Secretary pointed out—ticking off areas such as smallpox eradication, global health assistance programs and partnerships such as biomedical research and disease surveillance. “But most of these efforts were seen as fundamentally separate from our work to improve health here in America,” said Sebelius. “Today, we can no longer separate global health from America’s health and we need to look beyond our borders to improve health inside our country.”

Considerations that prompted the new strategy include:

  • Global pandemics like the H1N1 flu have always been a threat. But today, they can spread faster and more unpredictably than ever before. “A million people drive across our borders, dock in our ports, or land in our airports every day, and any one of them could be bringing a new virus or bug with them,” said Secretary Sebelius.
  • Nearly half of the fruit and over three quarters of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported from abroad, prompting food safety concerns.
  • Many medicines are imported from abroad, often from countries with fewer safety controls than the US.
  • Innovations are needed to reduce the burden of chronic disease and other countries are working on such innovations that could be valuable here in a range of areas, including lowering health costs, training more primary care providers and improving population health.

The strategy has three goals, according to Nils Daulaire, MD, MPH, Director of the HHS Office of Global Affairs:

  • A focus on areas where our work abroad helps protect and promote the health and well-being of Americans such as disease surveillance and treatment research partnerships;
  • Leadership in areas where HHS has special technical expertise, such as NIH research, CDC epidemiology efforts and regulation expertise at the Food and Drug Administration; and
  • Partnerships within the administration to advance U.S. interests, with agencies including the State Department and USAID.

Read More

Dec 30 2011
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Top 10 NewPublicHealth Posts of 2011

It's been an exciting year for us at NewPublicHealth! We launched in March, and nine months, nine conferences and 568 posts later, we are ready to ring in the new year.

Here's a glimpse into the inaugural year of NewPublicHealth, and the top posts by popularity.

  1. Power of Health IT for Public Health: A NewPublicHealth Q&A With Farzad Mostashari. This piece was a conversation with the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), about the evolving public health informatics field.
  2. Dr. Douglas Jutte: My Patient's Most Pressing Health Concern Was a Broken Carburetor. Dr. Jutte provided a personal commentary on how unmet social needs—like access to nutritious food, transportation assistance and housing assistance—were sometimes the most critical in treating his patients. (Also check out a round-up of reader responses to this post.)
  3. Public Health and the Community Benefit: A NewPublicHealth Q&A With Abbey Cofsky. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires that non-profit hospitals, starting in 2012, perform a community health needs assessment, and that the assessment serve as the foundation of an implementation plan to address identified needs. NewPublicHealth spoke with Abbey Cofsky, program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, about the public health opportunities this provision offers.
  4. The National Prevention Strategy: A NewPublicHealth Q&A With Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. Upon its launch, we spoke with the Surgeon General about the nation's plan for increasing the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life.
  5. Teen Birthrates Down in U.S. But Still Lag Behind Other Developed Nations. This article looked at the April Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the latest stats on teen childbirth, such as, "Girls born to teen mothers are about 30% more likely to become teen mothers themselves."
  6. Health Literacy: Reducing the Burden of a Complex Healthcare System. During Health Literacy Month, NewPublicHealth caught up with Linda Harris of the HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and Cindy Brach of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality about federal efforts to improve health literacy and to reduce the burden of a complex healthcare system.
  7. The County Health Rankings 2011: Mobilizing Action to Improve Health. NewPublicHealth's very first post announced the second annual County Health Rankings, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute that provides a standard way for counties to see where they are doing well and where they are not so they can make changes to improve health.
  8. What to Expect at the Health Data Initiative Forum: A Q&A With Todd Park. The Forum, presented by HHS and the Institute of Medicine, convened more than 500 people to showcase how health data can provide a rich seeding ground for new tools to support more informed decision-making by consumers, healthcare systems and community officials. NewPublicHealth spoke with Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer at HHS, to get his take on health innovation.
  9. HHS Leading Health Indicators: Health By Some New Numbers. NewPublicHealth was on the ground at the APHA Annual Meeting covering top news, including the announcement of the latest Leading Health Indicators from HHS, a set of the top national high-priority health issues and actions that can be taken to address them.
  10. Housing Policy is Health Policy: A NewPublicHealth Q&A With HUD's Raphael Bostic. Raphael Bostic of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) spoke with NewPublicHealth about the role of housing in health, and new collaborations across sectors that recognize that providing healthier, more affordable housing can lead to significant health outcomes.

Runners up included Q&As with CDC Director Thomas Frieden and Virginia Comonwealth University researcher Steven Woolf; a post on public health mobile phone apps and a commentary on the popular movie Contagion.

These were just a handful of the conversations that captured our readers' interests this year. Keep reading in 2012 for the latest in public health and new ways to prevent disease and health crises where they begin—in our communities.

Thanks for reading and for your always insightful comments. Have a happy, healthy New Year and we'll see you in 2012!

Dec 23 2011
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Public Health News Roundup: December 23

HHS Releases Millions to States to Help Cover Energy Costs for Low Income Families

The Department of Health and Human Services has released more than $845 million to states to help low-income households with their heating and home energy costs under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Advisory Committee Recommends Hepatitis B Vaccine for Unvaccinated Adults with Diabetes

Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for all unvaccinated adults with type 1 and type 2 diabetes aged 19 to 59, according to new guidelines from the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The committee made it recommendation based on findings that show that people with diabetes are at increased risk for Hepatitis B, which can be transmitted through minute amounts of blood from an infected person. For example, the virus can be transmitted if finger-stick devices or blood glucose monitors are shared and used by an infected person.

HUD Launches Interpreter Pilot Project for 175 Languages

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has launched the HUD Language Line, a telephone language service pilot program that will offer live, one-on-one interpretation services in more than 175 languages. The program will be accessible throughout the US and will help HUD staff better communicate with individuals and families with limited English skills about HUD programs and services. The pilot program will run through September 2012.

Dec 8 2011
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Public Health News Roundup: December 8

HHS Secretary Rules Against OTC “Morning After” Pill for Younger Teens

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius yesterday rejected an application to make Plan B, an emergency contraceptive pill, available without a prescription for girls younger than 17. The drug is already approved for sale without a prescription for girls and women over the age of 17. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had planned to approve the availability for younger girls. HHS Secretaries are permitted to overrule an FDA decision, though this is the first time a Secretary has done so, according to the FDA. Read more on sexual health.

IOM Issues Report on Environmental Factors Linked to Breast Cancer

Women may be able to reduce their risk for breast cancer by avoiding unnecessary medical radiation, avoiding use of use of combination estrogen-progestin menopausal hormone therapy, limiting alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and avoiding tobacco use, according to a new report on environmental risk factors for breast cancer released yesterday by the Institute of Medicine.

According to the new report, evidence also indicates a possible link to increased risk for breast cancer from exposure to benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and ethylene oxide, which are chemicals found in some workplace settings and in gasoline fumes, vehicle exhaust, and tobacco smoke. But avoiding personal use of hair dyes and non-ionizing radiation emitted by mobile devices and other technologies probably do not impact a woman’s risk for breast cancer, and there is insufficient data on the link between some other chemicals and an increased risk for breast cancer including bisphenol A (BPA), pesticides, ingredients in cosmetics and dietary supplements. Get more news on developments in cancer research and prevention.

USDA Announces University Grants to Improve Food Safety

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded 17 grants to universities in 13 states aimed at improving the safety of the U.S. food supply. USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded the grants, which focus on areas including laboratory research and grower and consumer education. Read more on food safety.

Nov 17 2011
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Girls on the Run: You Go, Girls!

GOTR1 Girls on the Run 5k race in Washington, D.C.

What does a pair of running shoes have to do with healthy self-esteem and behavior change? Just ask Girls on the Run.

Girls on the Run is a national program for girls ages 8 to 13 that couples running and life lessons to help build self esteem and a healthy future for thousands of girls. The Washington, D.C. area chapters show off the program’s diversity with participating schools ranging from private academies with sky-high tuition to D.C. public school students whose families struggle to make ends meet.

The program’s 12 sessions combine training for a 5k run with curriculum-based lessons on topics such as bullying, healthy eating, body image and alcohol and tobacco use.

GOTR2 Girls on the Run Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy team, "Standing Up For Myself" lesson

The program concentrates on the 8 to 13 age group because studies show that girls between those ages are still receptive to adult influence, while beginning to feel peer pressure, says D.C. chapter head Elizabeth Hammond-Chambers. “Learning to value physical activity early in life increases the likelihood of participants staying physically healthy into adulthood,” says Hammond-Chambers.

National participation in the program is growing at about 20 percent a year, and while girls are proud of their physical feats, their emotional growth is just as significant. Hammond-Chambers says the girls have written testimonials saying they feel proud and able to stand up for themselves. “I love to watch the same look of pride on each girl’s face as they cross the finish line at our annual race.”

Non-competitiveness may be the ticket. Walking the 5K is as valued as running, and everyone gets a medal at the end. During training session girls are encouraged to cheer each other on. And they do. The point isn’t winning, it’s “moving with purpose” says Hammond-Chambers.

Although all chapters are modeled on the same national program, the D.C. chapter has some lofty neighbors cheerleading for the program. A special guest at the end of program run last year was Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The upcoming 5k run in Washington, D.C. takes place December 4, 2011. Find an event near you here.

Nov 17 2011
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Great American Smokeout: Still Smoking? Don't Give Up on Quitting

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About 20 percent of Americans now smoke, down from about the half of American adults who smoked in the 1960s. Changes in advertising, physician advice, advocacy messages and social norms are behind the millions who have already quit—but what’s with the 20 percent still smoking?

Experts say current smokers, bombarded with no-smoking messages and obstacles to smoking such as higher cigarette prices and bans on smoking in many public places and workspaces likely have physiologic causes that keep them lighting up. That doesn’t mean they can’t quit, says Richard Hurt, MD, director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic. It means they need combinations of specifically targeted strategies.

Hurt says that we’re all born with the same number of nicotine receptors in our brains but for some people, starting to smoke physiologically increases those receptors—and the dependence on nicotine. “It’s very difficult to give up tobacco when your brain is craving it that much,” says Hurt. Nicotine is always addictive, but the level of physical addiction can vary dramatically from one person to the next. Hurt adds that cigarette manufacturers have refined cigarettes over the years for the maximum delivery of nicotine—and dependence—to the brain.

“Smokers need to know that quitting is a process, most people need several quit attempts,” Hurt says. They also need to work with health professionals who can help adjust numbers of counseling sessions—often phone counseling is as effective as in person therapy—as well as continual adjusting of doses for nicotine replacement and types and amounts of drugs.

Where to start? Hurt suggests a health care professional or one of several gateway websites available 24/7 to help smokers quit. “Be part of a community... Sometimes just understanding what you’re up against, something more than just will power , is very powerful and enriching for smokers hoping to quit,” says Hurt.

More resources:

>>Read more tobacco news.

>>Weigh In: What have you found to be successful in helping smokers quit?

Nov 1 2011
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Public Health News Roundup: November 1

Executive Order Issued To Deal with Prescription Drug Shortages

The White House issued an executive order yesterday to help remedy the current shortage of some prescription drugs, including some cancer medications. The order calls on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to take a number of steps to intervene including adding staff, working with drug companies to alert the agency to impending drug shortages ahead of time and to investigate whether shortages are leading to price gouging. Prescription drug shortages tripled between 2005 and 2010.

HHS Finalizes Survey Standards to Help Reduce Health Disparities

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today released final standards to more consistently measure race, ethnicity, sex, primary language and disability status, thereby improving the ability to highlight health disparities and target interventions to reduce these disparities. Read up on health disparities here.

AAP Recommends Routine Substance Abuse Education and Screening

A new American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement recommends that pediatricians provide substance abuse education and screening to adolescents during routine clinical care, relying on protocols designed by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Get more substance abuse news.

Oct 31 2011
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HHS Leading Health Indicators: Health by Some New Numbers

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a set of twelve Leading Health Indicators at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association this morning.

“The indicators help communicate high-priority health issues to the public and actions that can be taken to address them,” said Howard Koh, MD, Assistant Secretary of Health at HHS, at the briefing this morning. The indicators also give health professionals a chance to narrow their focus when it comes to the health of Americans. Healthy People 2020, which the leading indicators are linked to, contain 42 topic areas, nearly 600 objectives, and close to 1200 measures. “Through these… measures, communities can identify vital health issues and track how they are doing compared to other communities,” said Dr. Koh.

The new indicators include some of the usual, though critical, suspects including violence and injury prevention but also include two new measures that public health officials cheered at the announcement today—oral health and social determinants. The other indicators include access to health services, clinical preventive services, environmental quality, maternal, infant and child health, mental health, nutrition, physical activity and obesity, reproductive and sexual health, substance abuse and tobacco. According to HHS, preparedness was not selected because the topic is new and there’s a lack of historical data, however the agency will continue to monitor the issue to see if it should be included in the future.

The indicators were developed by HHS advisory groups and the Institute of Medicine, which released a report on leading health indicators several months ago.

Todd Park, HHS Chief Technology Officer, today announced a related app challenge at this morning’s briefing. “We’re launching a new application development challenge to bring technology innovators and public health mavens together to develop tools that can be used to help communities apply the power of the Leading Health Indicators to improve health,” said Park. The contest ends in March, and will be available at challenge.gov.

Weigh In: Do you have an idea for a leading health indicator app that would benefit communities?

>>Follow the rest of our APHA 2011 Annual Meeting Coverage here.