Category Archives: Health and Human Services
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
- American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services's SmokeFree.gov
- National Cancer Institute
- National Alliance for Tobacco Cessation
>>Read more tobacco news.
>>Weigh In: What have you found to be successful in helping smokers quit?
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.
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.
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.
“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.
William Schaffner, MD, professor and chair of the preventive medicine department at Vanderbilt University, responded to an article on the effectiveness of the flu vaccine with a quote from Voltaire—“perfection is the enemy of the good." The article, published yesterday in Lancet Infectious Diseases, detailed an analysis of previous studies and found that the most commonly used vaccine in the U.S. is about 60 percent effective—somewhat less than had been thought—and that there are no trials on children ages two through 17 and on adults age 65 and older.
Schaffner, who is also a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America says that while the current flu vaccine isn’t fully effective for everyone who gets it, everyone eligible should get the shot because even in cases where it doesn’t prevent the flu, it can minimize serious flu effects including hospitalizations and deaths. “That’s crucial,” says Schaffner. “A healthy person with the flu can go from feeling fine to very ill in the hospital in just 48 hours.”
People have a tendency to disrespect the seriousness of the risk posed by the flu, but they make a mistake, says Paul Etkind, DrPH, senior director for infectious diseases at the National Association of County and City Health Offiicals. From 3,000 to 48,000 people die each year from the flu, depending on how active the season is, says Etkind, and about a quarter of a million people are hospitalized each year.
The U.S. sent some impressive firepower as part of its delegation to the United Nations High-level Meeting on non-communicable (also known as chronic) diseases that met this week in New York. The delegation included HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, M.D., M.P.H. and CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. Additional delegation members included American Public Health Association Executive Director Georges Benjamin, M.D., and Risa Lavizzo-Mourrey, M.D., M.B.A., president and C.E.O. of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The U.N. meeting, the first high-level meeting on a health issue since a summit on AIDS ten years ago, was attended by more than 30 heads of state and at least 100 other senior ministers from around the world. The delegates adopted a declaration calling for a multi-pronged campaign by governments, industry and the public. The declaration calls for an international plan by 2013 to curb risk factors behind cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.
Chronic Disease Surpasses Infectious Disease in Global Deaths
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) kill 35 million people each year and more people now die from these chronic diseases globally than from infectious diseases, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO also notes that the most prevalent diseases share common risk factors including tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“Our collaboration is more than a public health necessity. Non-communicable diseases are a threat to development. NCDs hit the poor and vulnerable particularly hard, and drive them deeper into poverty,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a speech to the summit. The Secretary General said families are often pushed into poverty when a member becomes too weak to work or when the costs of medicines and treatments overwhelm the family budget. According to the WHO, deaths from NCDs will increase by 17 percent in the next decade, and in Africa, that number will jump by 24 percent.