Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Cat said . . .

My friend Cat works at the CDC.  She offered this comment at the end of a previous post, and I thought it deserved a more prominent placing.  So, here's Catherine:
Bill Foege gave a lecture at CDC yesterday, in honor of the 30th anniversary of smallpox eradication (32 years since the last case was identified). He’s a truly insightful man (former EIS officer, a key player in smallpox eradication, former director of the Carter Center, former director of CDC, etc) and his lectures never disappoint me.

He concluded his talk yesterday by emphasizing the importance of surveillance systems to addressing what he considers to be the four major challenges to public health in the US currently: (1) the need for mental health statistics, (2) standard measures of climate change’s impact on human and environmental health, (3) continued focus on social determinants of health, and (4) healthcare reform. For healthcare reform, he suggested surveillance data could allow policymakers to use actual health indicators like reduction of obesity/chronic disease rates to better assess the quality of healthcare available to the population, and to make evidence-based decisions, as opposed to purely political ones.

He then went on to say that when he first began his career, everyone told him to watch out for socialism, so he spent years watching over his shoulder for socialism. He said that what he didn’t realize at the time was that he should have been watching over his shoulder for capitalism. He said something along the lines of: Capitalism is gaining on us. Our healthcare mess is due to capitalism. Some things do not lend themselves to the marketplace. One year after the marketplace let us down, we think it can solve our healthcare problem?

The lecture really recharged my batteries. It can be discouraging to constantly be exposed to cases and large scale trends of preventable morbidity and mortality amenable to our inadequate healthcare system. For example, outbreaks due to healthcare practitioners having to settle for less than the ideal method of diagnosis and course of treatment for their patient, because their patient cannot afford what he really needs. Additionally, physicians-- who are taught to do no harm-- are often unable to consult on primary prevention of disease because their practice is driven by limitations on time and resources.

Bill Foege ended by modifying a Democritus quote to say that the wise person belongs to all ages—learning from the past and working for the future. Especially with the volatile state of healthcare policy in US lately, I think everyone here at CDC really needed to hear his lecture yesterday—to meditate on what was learned from the smallpox eradication campaign, and to consider where we are now and what we need to do to move forward.

1 comment:

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