National Public Health Week 2020: One We All Will Remember

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by: Michael E. Thompson, MS, DrPH, Associate Professor and Associate Chair, UNC Charlotte Department of Public Health Sciences

Each year, the United Stated designates the week encompassing World Health Day (7 April), as National Public Health Week (NPHW). For 2020, NPHW falls the week of 6-12 April. In reality, however, we have all been living National Public Health Week for the past month.

Most years, NPHW struggles to garner attention outside the smaller professional and academic public health community. As we teach our public health students, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop once noted that “Health care is vital to all of us some of the time but public health is vital to all of us all of the time.” What he did not add was the public health largely goes unnoticed (and underappreciated and underfunded) until something goes horribly wrong.

This year, NPHW will again struggle for media attention, but not because public health is being taken for granted: our global response to the COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost on everyone’s mind. In fact, most of the world is now collectively engaged in the largest single (mostly) coordinated public health intervention of all time – social distancing on a global scale.

Never before have so many people outside of public health been so eager to learn epidemiology, to understand herd immunity, or to practice optimal hygiene and other healthy behaviors. Never before have so many people truly understood the interconnectedness of our many social layers – the social epidemiologic thinking that underpins public health practice – that reinforces how our actions affect more than ourselves and those immediately around us and an awareness of how broader social, environmental, and political forces influence us, often so subtly that we fail to notice them or give them the credence they are due.

Here at UNC Charlotte, we have redoubled our efforts to train and prepare the future public health workforce with the skills and insights they will need to become effective leaders in the face of uncertainty. Our faculty, students, and staff continue to add to our collective body of knowledge of how best to respond to COVID-19 and other public health challenges. We continue to serve and inform our communities, especially the most vulnerable among us. We remain steadfast in our commitment to attaining our shared goals, flexible in the methods we use to attain them, patient and realistic in our timelines, and compassionate and supportive of those who struggle around us.

As Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s so eloquently stated, “The success or failure of any government in the final analysis must be measured by the well-being of its citizens. Nothing can be more important to a state than its public health; the state’s paramount concern should be the health of its people.” Now is the time for us to live up to that challenge. We ask that you join with us and answer the call to be Public Health Heroes with pride and confidence.