Celebrating National Public Health Week through Collaboration, Engagement, and Action

By Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, NACCHO President and Executive Director of Harris County Public Health in Houston, Texas

April 2–8 is National Public Health Week (NPHW), a time to recognize the key contributions of public health and highlight issues that are important to improving our nation’s health. The celebration, organized by the American Public Health Association, is commemorated during the first full week in April each year. This year’s theme is “Healthiest Nation 2030: Changing Our Future Together” and underscores the importance of improving health in the places in which people live, learn, work, worship, and play. Each day is dedicated to a topic-specific theme: behavioral health, infectious disease, environmental health, injury and violence prevention, and ensuring the right to health. NPHW presents a terrific opportunity for local health departments (LHDs) to engage partners and community members to raise awareness about the life-saving work we do year-round.

Many LHDs take advantage of the opportunity to raise the profile of their health departments by hosting community events. Last year, the Cambridge Public Health Department in Cambridge, MA, hosted a free half-day seminar to local students of public health to expose them to the often-unseen work of local public health. The Howard County Health Department in Columbia, MD, hosted an expo at a local mall to showcase its public health services and its role in the community. Other LHDs, like the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department in Parkersburg, WV, enlisted local Medical Reserve Corps volunteers to staff health fairs or booths near LHD clinics to promote chronic disease prevention and maternal and child health services.

At Harris County Public Health (HCPH) during the week, we will be honoring the tireless efforts of our staff that keep the Harris County residents safe. The work of public health, as a whole, goes unseen in the eyes of others. Public health is seldom glamourous or attention getting, but protecting and preparing our residents is critically important work—truly, public health matters. Throughout the week, we will be launching videos highlighting different aspects of public health so that our community—and beyond—understands that public health happens every single day. During NPHW, we will give our community the opportunity to meet the people at the front line of protecting and serving them, as we take people into a day in the life of a public health professional at HCPH.

In addition, we will be working with our partners at the University of Texas, School of Public Health to discuss how HCPH is applying a ‘Hi-Tech, Hi-Touch’ lens to build a healthy community for today and tomorrow. We will also be participating in a Twitter Chat with American Public Health Association and other national organizations (I encourage everyone to actively participate with @NACCHOalerts, @hcphtx, and @ushahmd). Also, I have the pleasure of sitting down with students and interns—the future of public health—and hear their stories in “Changing Our Future Together.” We will upload the discussion on our social media channels and YouTube–you won’t want to miss it!

Tools and Resources for Participating LHDs
Outside the walls of our health departments, a broad mix of organizations and institutions in our jurisdictions are responsible for creating the conditions that ensure and promote health. This week is a great opportunity to remind those organizations that they can partner with us to create healthier, more vibrant communities. The NPHW website contains messaging and several short graphics that LHDs can use in their communications vehicles to help promote the ways in which educational institutions, employers, law enforcement, faith-based organizations, and community planning entities can improve public health.

Additionally, NACCHO has developed a variety of resources on each of NPHW’s daily topics to help LHDs implement evidence-based practices and advocate for policies that ensure the health and well-being of all people.

Monday, April 2: Behavioral Health
Opioid addiction is by far the most pressing behavioral health issue facing LHDs right now. On Monday, LHDs can raise awareness about the prevalence of opioid overdose and death and promote resources and services to help curb addiction. NACCHO has developed the following opioid-related resources for its members:

Tuesday, April 3: Infectious Disease
Despite the extraordinary successes generated by immunizations, pharmaceuticals, and evidence-based public health interventions, infectious disease remains a critical local public health issue. On Tuesday, LHDs can educate their constituents about sexually transmitted infections, vaccine-preventable diseases, and emerging threats like Ebola and the Zika virus. NACCHO has developed the following infectious disease-related resources for its members:

Wednesday, April 4: Environmental Health
On Wednesday, LHDs can share how they work to tackle environmental health issues such as climate change, food safety and security, vector-borne disease transmission, and hydraulic fracturing. NACCHO has numerous tools and resources available to help support LHD environmental health efforts:

Thursday, April 5: Injury and Violence Prevention
LHDs play an important role in coordinating the broader public health system’s efforts to reduce injury and violence. On Thursday, LHDs can raise awareness about their programs that address the causes of injury- and violence-related inequities. The following NACCHO resources can help inform LHD efforts:

Friday, April 6: Ensuring the Right to Health
Finally, on Friday LHDs can educate the public about the social determinants of health and share how they are confronting the root causes of inequities in the distribution of disease and illness through public health practice. NACCHO has developed the following health equity-related resources for LHDs:

What is your LHD doing to mark NPHW? Share your activities on social media using the hashtag #NPHW. For additional resources to promote NPHW in your community, visit  http://www.nphw.org or http://www.naccho.org.

At the end of the day, this year’s theme of “Changing Our Future Together” implies just that—it takes a village and all of us have a role in creating that optimal public health of tomorrow. So, let’s enjoy this week of celebration and remember why public health truly matters—not just to those professionals in our field but to the very people that rely on our field for their health, safety, security, and well-being.