It is a fairly simple concept that has been coming back into my mind especially after reading The Blue Sweater – a book about the journey of Jaqueline Novogratz, CEO of the Acumen Fund. If we don’t make public health integrated into people’s lives and sustainable – we will continue to fail.
Let me make it even more clear: for public health initiatives to be anywhere near effective in the coming years, the phrase sustain or die will need to ring loudly.
Sounds a bit morbid right? Well, unfortunately that’s exactly what we are dealing with these days. A deadly lack of effectiveness. According to an August study published in the Lancet – there will be an additional 65 million more obese Americans by the year 2030. That’s pretty staggering number in the next 18 years. How long do we need to look at these numbers and hear these reports before we realize that if we don’t do something drastic, effective and sustainable, the world of public health will lose out on the premise that the discipline is aimed at prevention and saving lives.
No more time for failure. Sustain or Die.
To “sustain” (according to Mirriam-Webster): to give support/relief to, to supply with sustenance, to support the weight of (no pun intended?)
To “die” (according to Mirriam-Webster): to pass out of existence
Campaigns do not sustain themselves. Multi million dollar HIV/AIDS campaigns that say the same thing to the same “troubled communities” do not sustain themselves. People who are passionate and invested in their own communities, however are sustainable. Partnerships with credible local leadership is sustainable. Building neighborhoods that encourage health is sustainable.
Coming into a community with a celebrity poster on a bus stop? Not sustainable. The celebrity gets paid and the citizens? They have something to look at briefly while waiting for a bus to take them to a job where they don’t get paid enough and gives them little time to think about getting more fruits and vegetables in their diet. Marinate.
Oh yeah. Sustain or Die.
The Death of Public Health?
Now for the morbid part. Two fold death. The field of public health in which we work to prevent disease/death is on the chopping block. Funding is constantly disappearing and professionals are a) burning out b) switching industries c) losing the passion and interest we so desperately need during these times. Terms/issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have become buzz words in the media (not in a good way). Oh and culinary abominations like the triple stack Whopper continue to thrive in place of real food.
Where does that leave us? If we fail at growing sustainable new ideas for public health – the communities/populations/people that are supposedly in our care are doomed (there’s that DIE part again). Also the field of public health itself will become a shell of its former accomplishments and too, will perish for being a slow moving, ineffective, timid, business-as-usual, aging, just-get-me-to-retirement field.
So Then What?
In November of last year I brought an idea to life by co-founding the first public health innovation film festival – FastForward Health. It was a fantastic experience, not only for seeing the amazing turnout and getting some cool press, but also seeing the inspiration that was cultivated during that short time with all sorts of people interested in making positive impact in the health space. There are opportunities out there folks! Technology, food/water, the built environment – these are just a few of the main places where fresh ideas are being put into place by people who may or may not have an MPH (marinate) or a traditional health background. Urban gardens, mobile health, video games for health – it’s all very real and it’s all very necessary. This is what this blog is about and this is what I am most definitely advocating for and wakes me up in the morning!
Disagree with me? Agree? Let me know. Stay tuned for something else I’m cooking up around this that I’m hoping will add value to the next iteration of public health.
Welcome to 2012.