Lab Matters Winter 2017 | Page 5

executive director ’ s message

Since the election , a lot of people have been asking me , “ What is it like in Washington , DC ?”

In a word — scary . Scary because so much is not known , and disruption to the norm seems to be the “ new normal .”

Now let me be clear : Public health is nonpartisan . APHL is nonpartisan . Science is nonpartisan . And we are still committed to achieving the goals we set for ourselves including the vitally important work Chris Whelen describes in his accompanying column .

Historically , public health has done well under Republican administrations . And no matter who the country ’ s president is , public health laboratories have the same job to do . Yet , much remains uncertain in the Trump administration , and some of the changes that have occurred don ’ t necessarily bode well for health-related policies .
One of the new administration ’ s first acts , for example , was to remove all references to climate change from key US government websites ( followed by CDC ’ s abrupt cancellation of a long-planned conference on climate change and health ). Shortly thereafter , The Washington Post reported new federal limits on public communicationsmunications that “ appear to be targeting agencies that are charged with overseeing environmental and scientific policy ” and “ raising concerns that federal employees will be able to convey only information which supports the president ’ s agenda .”
This brings me to a talk I gave at CDC two days before the presidential inauguration : Public Health Laboratories in a Post-Truth World .
The Oxford Dictionary defines post-truth , its 2016 word-of-the-year , as “ relating to ... circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief .” The — nonpartisan — point of the talk was to note that we must deal with a post-truth world the same way we deal with other issues : by approaching it from a scientific perspective . That means learning from behavioral science , communication science and other relevant disciplines .
APHL fielded its own brief survey to ask members about risks , opportunities , and what keeps you up at night ? Although one respondent reported , “ I sleep like a log ,” others were not so restful . Broadly speaking , members are worried about the sustainability of public health laboratory ( PHL ) practice . Specifically , concerns include resource challenges , workforce challenges , technologicalogical challenges , public perceptions and attitudes , and concern for privatization , among others . Add to this list my personal concern about attacks on science and on government service , especially considering that we in public health are smack in the middle of both .
The greatest immediate threat to PHLs is in the repeal of the Affordable Care Act ( ACA ). Though little known publicly , the Prevention and Public Health Fund contained in the ACA provides $ 40 million / year to CDC ’ s Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity ( ELC ) program . Our job is to ensure the ELC program is funded under a regular budget initiative . And I ’ m asking for your help . Please take advantage of every opportunity to share with your state and local health officials , your state ’ s congressional delegation , and anyone who will listen , the importance of ELC to your laboratory and your jurisdiction and the people you serve .
And lest we become discouraged , remember that challenges always come with opportunities ies . For public health , these include the positive attention and good will that result from successful emergency response ; the possibility of new collaborations with the private sector , academia and others ; potential new funding stemming from the above ; the benefits of new technologies ( possibly including lower , long term costs ); and the value of the new , more detailed data streams PHLs are now able to generate .
My hope is that we can take advantage of these opportunities , while maintaining our core values , and defending science , in the post-truth world that we are suddenly in .
Scott Becker , MS , executive director
APHL . org
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