What I Learned: APHA 2013
By Sheila Snow-Croft, Public Health Outreach Coordinator, NN/LM, SE/A Region
This year’s annual meeting of the American Public Health Association was as big and busy as ever, and it did what the best conferences do: reenergized attendees, provided ample networking opportunities, and taught everyone a few things about public health. A highlight every year, for me, is helping with the NLM exhibit; along with visiting with colleagues from Bethesda, there are always thankful visitors stopping by to express appreciation for NLM resources. When I was at the booth, along with basic questions regarding what exactly it is that the NLM does for the public health workforce, we had some interesting questions about PubMed, PHPartners.org, PubMed Health, MedlinePlus Connect, TOXNET, and even LactMed.
Away from my comfort zone of talking about NLM, I discovered that, more than ever before, there were many sessions that held a specific interest for me both personally and in my role of Public Health Coordinator for SE/A. I enjoyed several sessions where the researchers had partnered with libraries and librarians, and more than a few expressed the importance of library resources in their efforts to study and improve public health. I made contacts with several presenters who were discussing projects in our region, projects working with librarians the SE/A knows well and some we will certainly get to know better. And I remain thankful for electronic access to the conference so I can revisit selected topics and speakers in the future.
The Opening Session was perhaps the most exciting, because while the speakers addressed and quoted alarming statistics and public health facts, they were successfully encouraging, urging us to resist being overwhelmed. The content was also more diverse than usual, covering a broad range of topics such as the role of government in addressing public health issues, health disparities, racism, poverty, LGBT rights, and abortion rights. Dr. Georges Benjamin, APHA’s Executive Director, welcomed us with APHA’s new tagline: “For science. For action. For health.” More about this new face of APHA can be found at http://www.apha.org/about. The Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission, Barbara Ferrer, introduced Boston’s Mayor, Thomas Menino, who welcomed us to town and discussed his administration’s efforts to improve the health of Bostonians: during his tenure teen pregnancies have dropped by 50% and smoking has decreased by 10%, for example.
The key speaker of the Opening Session was epidemiologist Michael Marmot, Chair of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Commission on Social Determinants of Health. An effective and entertaining speaker, he stated that “the inequalities within and between countries are not due to the deficiencies of health care, they are due to the operation of the social determinants of health.” WHO set up this Commission with the goal of creating a social movement and Marmot asserted that the APHA is part of that movement. Following Marmot’s effective rally cry was another inspirational speaker, Attorney Sarah Weddington, who successfully argued the landmark case of Roe vs Wade. She focused on our continued fight for women’s health and the role of Public Health within this struggle, echoing the conference theme to “think globally and act locally.” Her details about women’s health and rights in the past added a richness to her summation that things are not what we want them to be, but they are better than they used to be. She asserted that “Leadership is the ability and the willingness to leave your thumbprint,” and challenged us all to make a difference, to lead, adding that “Public Healthcare is our mission, and what we are here to lead about.”