By Jose Luis Castro, President and CEO of Vital Strategies
Today, President Biden and Vice President Harris take the reins in the midst of a global pandemic and as the U.S. reaches an excruciating milestone of nearly 400,000 American lives lost to COVID-19. A new administration offers a new beginning, and this watershed moment should serve as an opportunity to prioritize public health.
In the coming weeks and months, we join other public health leaders in calling on the new administration to lead with science, increase global collaboration, and put public health at the center of their work and policies.
Here are five ways the new administration can prioritize public health to save lives:
1. Center equity
In 2020, COVID-19 laid bare the gaps in equity across our societies. Systemic injustices leave some people and populations at more risk; The stark disparities in COVID-19 outcomes among people of color and poorer populations, plus the global movement for greater racial justice sparked by the murder of George Floyd, rightly challenged every organization to do more to change the systems that perpetuate inequities. We must address the systemic racism, colonialism, and sexism that are at the core of health inequities.
2. Invest in Prevention to Save Lives and Cut Cost
As COVID-19 continues to take its toll on the global community, we must reckon with the fact that this public health emergency could have been prevented or at least mitigated through preparedness. The new administration must give the CDC back its voice, coordinate a federal response plan and support local public health departments who have taken on much of the burden this past year.
3. Seize the Moment to Encourage Healthy Policy and Behaviors
Everyone is talking about public health. Terms like “flatten the curve” and “underlying conditions” are commonplace in 2021. We should seize the moment to draw attention to policies and behaviors that could reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases, like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, which account for 80% of the world’s premature deaths. These diseases have also put the people who have them at higher risk of death from COVID-19
4. Stop “Infodemics” Before They Start
In 2020 we saw misinformation spread rapidly. Discussions about wearing masks and social distancing devolved into political debates. The new administration must work to restore faith in science and place scientific experts in positions of power.
5. Look to Urbanization as a Determinant of Health
Cities are now home to over 50% of the world’s population, which makes them uniquely positioned to lead in the fight against disease and injuries. Urban centers have been the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s now clear what a vital role they play in public health. The new administration must empower city leaders to create policies that help everyone live a healthier life.
As this new administration steps in, we are hopeful. COVID-19 has revealed deep cracks in our health, social and economic systems, that were fracturing long before. We need to take the time to reflect on what we’ve learned this year and how we can use it to reimagine public health to build back stronger and healthier.
There is much work to be done, and there are brighter days ahead. At Vital Strategies, we are more committed than ever to build strong public health systems to help people live longer, healthier lives.
About José Luis Castro
José Luis Castro, FRSA, is the President & CEO of Vital Strategies, where he has led a rapid expansion of Vital Strategies’ portfolio, working with governments to tackle the world’s leading killers, primarily in low- and middle- income countries. The organization now reaches into 73 countries and has touched the lives of more than 2 billion people. Twitter: @JLCastroGarcia
About Vital Strategies
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.
To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.