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Prevention is Public Health

April 7, 2014

Prevention is the foundation of the work of nearly all public health professionals, including those at the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). By taking steps to avoid chronic and infectious diseases, people can live longer and better, not to mention save the U.S. millions of dollars in health care costs.

But don’t take our word for it. Here are some of Georgia’s leading public health voices on the importance of prevention in keeping Georgians healthy:

Jean O’Connor, DrPH, DPH’s Director of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

Chronic diseases are responsible for more than 60 percent of poor health and early death in our state.  Small, relatively simple changes in what we eat, moving more, getting recommended preventive screenings and not using tobacco or abusing alcohol can help us all live longer, healthier lives, achieve better education for our children and save hundreds of millions of dollars as a state.  Employers, schools, early care settings, faith-based organizations and health care systems all play a role in our health. Our division is working to translate science into realistic, straightforward tools and community approaches that can be used in all of these settings.

We know people in Georgia want to be healthy. We also know there are things we can do to lower our risk of chronic disease like not smoking or using tobacco products of any kind, or by taking control of our asthma, or eating healthier and being more physically active to fight obesity. We are already finding new ways of working together and getting results. For example, by working together with our partners, we have been able to accomplish more in tobacco control in a few short months than we ever could have alone. Our new worksite wellness partnerships are another great example of how combining the strengths of the public health system with our private sector partners can help move Georgia forward.

Jacqueline Grant, M.D., District Health Director of the Southwest Health District

Prevention is the essence of public health. It’s part of everything we do: environmental health, immunizations, cancer screening, oral health, WIC Nutrition Services, prenatal care, planning for adequate child spacing or for natural and man-made disasters. Our focus is on minimizing the risks, behaviors and conditions associated with adverse health effects for individuals and populations. Prevention is a subtle life-saver.

Our district is proud of our prevention-oriented services and programs. Recently our district held "Walk-In WIC Wednesday" at the Thomas County Health Department to make it easy and convenient for income-eligible residents to participate in the nutrition program. We also take pride in our collection of Tobacco-Free School Systems. In April, the Lee County School System became our most recent addition.

Steve Mitchell, Georgia Immunization Director

Immunizations are the cornerstone of preventive medicine.  Vaccines greatly reduce disease, disability and death throughout the state of Georgia.  When one individual is vaccinated then he/she is also protecting individuals who are in their immediate environment.  As educators and distributors of vaccines, Georgia’s Immunization Program will continue to remain attentive to the needs of our population to ensure we are all protected against potential diseases.

Jack Kennedy, M.D., Interim District Health Director of the North Georgia Health District

Prevention is the main focus of the North Georgia Health District as we strive to serve the people of our communities. Our public health initiatives, from flu shots to family planning, are designed to prevent health problems through immunizations, screenings, testing, disease surveillance, environmental health inspections and education. We also encourage injury prevention through various safety campaigns, and we work diligently with our communities to prepare for disasters.

Emily Vall, Ph.D., Obesity Project Manager for Georgia SHAPE

Prevention plays a huge role in our work with obesity. When children grow up eating healthy foods, drinking water and being physically active, it is easier for them as adults to keep those healthy habits throughout their lives and prevent chronic diseases. It is also easier for them to maintain a healthy weight. This also holds true with breastfeeding. Breast milk is the best food and drink for an infant for the first six months of life, and research shows the longer a baby is breastfed, the less likely they are to become obese. Teaching young children to make small healthy changes, and therefore develop healthy habits, sets them up for a lifetime of health.

Michelle Allen, State STD Director

Prevention and awareness are two strategies that are critical to the mission of the STD program. Our public health STD clinics routinely treat clients prophylactically for exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, a practice that epitomizes prevention. And because knowledge is power, we also work to educate Georgians about these diseases to heighten awareness of the STD epidemic in our state. Doing so helps prevent the spread of HIV and other STDs. Through prevention, we are systematically striving to address some of the most glaring disparities in health through teamwork and partnerships.

Lisa Dawson, DPH Director of Injury Prevention

Primary prevention is the majority of the work we do with our stakeholders at the state and local levels. That means preventing the most severe injury outcomes from happening in a crash, fire, fall, access to poison, around water and for the most vulnerable, brand new babies, ensuring the safest sleep environments. I am inspired by our staff: they bring to the department a vast range of experience and unmatched commitment as public servants. I am equally inspired by our leadership:  Dr. [Patrick] O'Neal is a champion for a robust trauma system with a focus on prevention, saying "...the prevention piece of a trauma system has the greatest return on the investment, dollar for dollar." Commissioner [Brenda] Fitzgerald has consistently championed injury prevention issues as public health priorities from prescription drug overdose prevention to safe sleep for newborns. We are grateful to be under the public health umbrella of prevention.