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Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

Celebrating National Public Health Week: Honoring Milestones and Embracing the Future

By Bill Christian, MD, MPH, MS

During National Public Health Week (April 1-7, 2024) it's time to celebrate the progress we've made in keeping people healthy, remember the important milestones along the way, and reaffirm our dedication to making the world a healthier place. I’m amazed by the diverse ways public health has made a difference in communities all over the world and how much it's improved people's lives. Notable public health accomplishments have laid the groundwork for public health professionals, and I’m also really excited about what's to come.

One of the earliest pioneers in public health was John Snow, who's often called the Father of epidemiology. In 1854, during a cholera outbreak in London, Snow mapped out all the cases and figured out that contaminated water was the source of the problem. This method of using data to understand disease transmission and guide public health responses is still used.

2024Theme_IG.pngI’m also reminded of public health influencers in occupational health. Alice Hamilton, MD, researched the health effects of industrial hazards such as lead, mercury, and carbon monoxide. Her work led to improved workplace safety standards and regulations. Irving Selikoff, MD, shed light on the dangers of asbestos, contributing to the advocacy and safety for workers. Today, we have institutions like UTHealth Houston, which offer programs such as a PhD in Environmental Science with a specialization in Total Worker Health®, the first of its kind, to further health promotion in the workplace.

One of the most important recent breakthroughs in public health is the development of the malaria vaccine, which has the potential to save many lives from such a debilitating pathogen. Another is the progress made in the fight against polio. Thanks to vaccination efforts and support from governments and organizations around the world, polio is inching closer to eradication. 

Public health as a field has expanded its influence in many areas. For example, advocacy towards improved indoor air quality has been the lifework of Joseph Allen, PhD, of Harvard Healthy Buildings, while water quality has improved with the setting of a per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances standard set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Public health maintains a health equity lens and continues to strive as such in its everyday practice.

As we celebrate National Public Health Week, let's keep pushing for fair access to healthcare, evidence-based interventions, and the components that can create healthy communities. This week serves as a reminder of the profound impact we can have when we work together towards a common goal: promoting health, preventing disease, and ensuring the well-being of future generations. Together, let us continue to strive for health equity, social justice, and the realization of our shared vision of a healthier world.