Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Let's hope it's only the first step....

By Steven Weber

Presidents declare emergencies about as frequently as they hire and fire advisors.  No big deal, there.

What's important here is the opportunity that the President now has, to shine some much needed light and attention on the vastly under-funded and dysfunctional public health system in much of the United States.

Consider how much of the public's attention right now is focused on flu -- when was the last time you weren't talking about it with your friends??  That's the opportunity.  It's rare that the public cares so much about public health capabilities.  It's a critical part of our health care system -- but also one of the most neglected and one of the places where the overall health of the population would get an enormous bang for the buck when it comes to investment.

A hundred years ago, public health officials were the heros of medicine.  Most of the extraordinary improvements in life span during the 20th century, are a result of not very glamorous but very important and impactful investments in public health measures.

I hope it doesn't come to this, but if we do get a serious pandemic this year or next, the public health system will crack under the weight of demand in most urban centers most visibly but also in rural America.  And if the pandemic doesn't come this year or next, it will at some point -- that's nearly a biological inevitability.

Now is one of those 'teachable' moments that President Obama likes, and is so good at seizing.  It's decidedly un-sexy when you could demonize United Health Group and Pfizer instead.  But the impact of a serious discussion and political move for public health investment could be huge.