Public health advocate
The American Public Health Association's president-elect, who is in Honolulu this week for a large conference, blasted the Bush administration for trying to cut health services when more than 10,000 military men and women have been critically injured in Iraq.
"It is galling to me that they are trying to close hospitals and reduce services when they are sending so many young people to war," Patricia Mail said in an interview.
"The military is having a very hard time," she said, citing post-traumatic stress disorder and "astronomical" mental health issues stemming from combat.
Mail gave a keynote address at yesterday's opening of the Pacific Global Health Conference, being held through tomorrow at the Hawai'i Convention Center. More than 400 health care professionals from throughout the Pacific are attending meetings hosted by the Hawaii Public Health Association, state Department of Health and Cancer Information Service Pacific Region.
Mail said she is committed to trying to increase the American Public Health Association's 30,000 members. "Public health needs to be a major issue," she said.
Mail, who is from Washington state and visiting Hawaii for the first time, is a consultant on American Indian substance abuse issues and most recently was a co-principal investigator with the University of Washington's Addiction Behaviors Center.
Public health workers are continually challenged by new outbreaks and threats, Mail told delegates yesterday, stressing that public health in the 21st century must involve "coordination, collaboration and continuing education."
With federal money being redirected to bioterrorism, she said, local governments will have to find money to fund preventative and primary health care and disaster recovery.
She said the United States, its "partners and antagonists alike" have a vital stake in global health because of re-emerging killers such as tuberculosis and deadly new diseases that spread rapidly and are resistant to antibiotics.
"Given the current budget cuts, the administration focus is not very public health-oriented," Mail added.
Mail acknowledged that APHA has been perceived as a "radical activist association" and said the group is trying to change that image and attract more practitioners.
She said Dr. Georges Benjamin, APHA executive director, has emphasized "it's critically important to be as neutral as possible to dialogue with whatever administration is in power or continue to sustain a reduction in resources which we can't sustain."