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
Winter 2017 LAB MATTERS 3