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HSPH Panel Envisions the Future of Public Health

The Harvard School of Public Health conducts a year-long series called 'Public Health On the Brink' that aims to address the most pressing challenges facing public health.
The Harvard School of Public Health conducts a year-long series called 'Public Health On the Brink' that aims to address the most pressing challenges facing public health. By Zadoc I. N. Gee
By Austin H. Wang, Jeffrey Q. Yang, and Ammy M. Yuan, Contributing Writers

A panel of health practitioners convened at the Harvard School of Public Health to discuss potential solutions to persisting challenges facing public health on Wednesday.

The event — in which panelists considered topics ranging from the allocation of scarce health resources to improving the accessibility of public health communication — is part of HSPH’s year-long series, “Public Health On the Brink.”

This series aims to address “urgent challenges” facing the public health field exposed by the pandemic, including equitable access to health care, per the School’s website.

“The pandemic really illuminated for me the fact that people have no clue what public health is quite often,” said panelist Tiffani L. Bell Washington, a diversity research scholar at the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at Harvard.

Bell Washington opened the panel with a discussion on combating the stigma around mental health.

“There’s so many negative spins in the news on people with mental health being blamed for various things like crimes,” Bell Washington said. “People are often afraid to even seek care.”

Bell Washington said she attempts to counteract such stigma by educating populations on the importance of seeking help.

Sarah Tsay, the director of emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham, said effective public health policy depends on communicating with and bringing together “diverse stakeholders.”

“We need subject matter experts across the board to be public health champions,” Tsay said.

Teguo D. Djoyum, founder of the Global Organization of Health Education, said partnership between those funding and those implementing solutions to public health issues must be improved.

“A lot of people really want to solve problems, and some may have the know-how, the skillset, and they’re on the ground doing it,” Djoyum said. “Some may have the funds to do it, but they’re in different world, or in different department, but it would be nice to find a way where we can connect these two people, so they can all have the same vision.”

Though Bryan O. Buckley, the event’s moderator and director for health equity initiatives at the National Committee for Quality Assurance, acknowledged that the challenges raised by the panelists can be discouraging, he said he remains hopeful.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re ice skating uphill,” Buckley said.

“Every time I talk to new students or new people thinking about coming into public health, that gives me hope that the next generation is thinking about that work,” he added.

Djoyum, whose work involves destigmatizing and treating epilepsy, said he remains motivated by seeing the joy he can bring to his patients.

“Just the spark [of] light on the faces of people — every day when I think of those single stories, and there’s 40 million of them, there’s so much work,” he said. “And we need to get to it.”

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