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2014 A Public Health Year in Review

Originated by: Tammy Pilisuk

Submitted: 16 Dec 2014

Last updated on: 16 Dec 2014

Related Health Topics:

Overview

As 2014 is comes to a close, it’s time to reflect back on what this year brought us in public health terms. I think we got some healthy doses of both the predictable and the not-so-predictable. I’ll try to replay 10 highlights here. If you like what you read, let me know. If there’s a glaring omission, tell me! I want learn what was important in public health from your perspective.

1. ACA Implementation

Think back to the pandemonium surrounding enrollment of the ACA health care exchanges. Coverage started in January 2014. By the end of open enrollment, and taking into account Medicaid expansion, about 15 million Americans had new health care coverage. Researchers will be looking at the first year of implementation for clues to health outcome measures.

2. Infectious Diseases

Let’s put infectious diseases at the top of 2014’s surprise public health challenges.

  • Flu

    2014 started off as a nasty flu season. H1N1 came back and preyed on the young and healthy. In Sacramento County, California, 53 people died of flu during a season which peaked during January - February, with dozens hospitalized in the ICU. After a local TV News employee died, the California First Lady tweeted she was moved to get her first flu shot.

  • Ebola

    Our media-consuming national obsession, the Ebola virus burst on the scene mid-year. Ebola is an uncontrolled scourge in a small handful of West African countries where over ten thousand people have been infected with a better-than 50% death rate. To date, those infected in the US can still be counted on our fingers. To meet a potential domestic threat, hospitals and health departments across the US have engaged in ebola preparedness activities and health care worker trainings.

  • Pertussis

    Pertussis (whooping cough) was big again this year. The disease peaks every 3-5 years, so few epidemiologists were surprised when California declared a pertussis epidemic in 2014 (after having one in 2010). Partly because of waning immunity of the current Tdap/DTaP vaccines, this may be, in a sense, the new normal. Increased efforts are needed to improve subpar vaccination uptake rates for pregnant women to protect newborns. California’s Kaiser Permanente is leading with more than three-quarters of pregnant Kaiser enrollees getting Tdap.

  • Measles

    Nobody expected over 600 cases of measles, the largest outbreak year since measles was thought to be “eliminated” from the US back in 2000. Imported cases from the Philippines, Vietnam, and other countries were largely responsible for infecting mainly unvaccinated Americans.

3. 4-H Youth Study.

A report on positive youth development put out by researchers at Tufts in April, surveyed or interviewed over 7,000 adolescents in grades 5-12 in 42 states to look at how engagement in certain activities impacted healthy behaviors. The study began in 2002 and has continued annually to collect longitudinal data. Participation in 4-H activities was found to have a beneficial impact on students, especially girls. Lets hope results are transferrable so similar social or academic engagement and mentorship can have a positive impact on youth beyond 4-H.

4. Public Health Impact of War.

War raged on this year in Syria leaving behind a population with little left of their homeland. Beyond the immeasurable suffering of the people and refugees, recent reports reveal the war has left behind toxic debris, creating yet another public health nightmare. The War in Gaza led to over 2,000 Palestinian fatalities, including nearly 500 children. Hope for peace in these volatile regions seems lower than ever. My hat’s off to all Peace and Conflict Studies programs (this is just one example) that continue to seek ways to mediate tensions.

5. Vaccine Safety.

The PBS documentary “Calling the Shots” brought the issue of vaccine safety into our living rooms with a science-based film on NOVA in September. The producers made the film freely available to stream on the web, with extra content to keep the conversation going.

6. Farm Bill SNAP Produce Subsidy.

There is everything to like about improving access to farmer’s markets produce for people on public assistance. This program, first piloted in Michigan, was put into the 2014 Farm Bill, finalized in September. The result? SNAP recipients will be able to use their SNAP food assistance dollars for twice their value at participating produce markets when buying fruit and vegetables.

7. Climate Summit.

One of the largest gatherings to date took place this year in New York in September. The 2014 Climate Change Summit hosted over 100 heads of State and 1,000 companies to set new goals to stem global climate change.

8. Minimum Wage Victories.

Given the inaction at the Congressional level, state and local victories were quite visible this year. Even in certain “red” state minimum wage ballot initiatives in November proved popular, offering relief from poverty wages to potentially tens to hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers.

9. Soda Tax.

Berkeley passed the nation’s first one cent per ounce soda tax in November. Funds will be used to support health promotion activities to fight obesity. Berkeley’s victory came after failures in the cities of Richmond and El Monte California—and most recently a narrow defeat in San Francisco. Public health advocates hope Berkeley can set an example for other communities to follow.

10. Violence in Urban Communities of Color.

This year we had to wrap our heads around the shooting of Michael Brown, revealing a deep unmet need for communities of color to feel safe at the hands of law enforcement. Working within youth communities, groups like UNITY have taken on giving youth alternatives to joining gangs. As public discourse heated up after the Grand Jury’s decision in the Brown case into December, working towards social, racial, and economic justice can only help empower youth and disenfranchised communities to be positive change agents.

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