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Letter: Public health funding crucial to creating healthy communities

Nationwide, communities are changing the way they care for their health as public health efforts are equipping Americans with the tools and knowledge to take charge of their health. Community planning that encourages physical activity, ensures easy access to healthy foods, provides strong programs for getting vaccinated and quitting smoking and plans for emergencies are all contributing to a framework that will help build the healthiest nation in one generation. However, our progress has become tenuous as we head down a path of disinvestment and unstable funding for these proven community-based health programs.

This past year, TIME magazine identified the “Ebola Fighter” as its Person of the Year and the threat of Ebola reminded us of the need to have in place quick-acting and prevention-focused public health plans, programs and people. While public health and health system professionals responded quickly to limit the health impact on American communities, Ebola revealed weaknesses in our health system and the need for a coordinated infectious disease response that educates the public and underscores the importance of having a means to prevent the spread of new and emerging infections. Even as our memory of the event fades, it is imperative that we do not forget these lessons and continue to consider the important role that public health plays in keeping communities in North Dakota safe and healthy.

Still, we’ve seen public health programs at the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Resources and Services Administration and other public health agencies impacted by spending caps and austerity measures which limit our ability to carry out successful local and state efforts.

Without these necessary resources, it is nearly impossible to support new programs to keep pace with the evolving needs of our communities as deep cuts to the federal budget are often compounded local budget cuts or limits on public health spending. Our nation’s potential to thrive is undermined when communities are not healthy and well and our economy is stronger when people are healthy.

Funding for the public health system is critical to Americans’ health and results in millions of saved lives. Examples of programs that are saving lives in North Dakota include: establishment of farmers markets so residents can enjoy fresh and healthy food, referral to smoking cessation programs, wellness programs at work, cancer screenings, and community preparedness planning. The future of our nation’s health depends on a strong and properly equipped public health infrastructure at the community level – in North Dakota and in cities and towns across the country.

It’s time that our nation’s health is made a priority. For the North Dakota Congressional delegation, the message is clear: Your commitment to investing in public health is fundamental to the success of people in North Dakota in their pursuit of health and to achieving a stronger and healthier nation.

Tello-Pool, Bismarck, is president, N.D. Public Health Association; Swanson, Grand Forks, is Action Board Member, American Public Health Association; Warne, Fargo, is executive director, N.D. Public Health Association.

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