Preventing the next pandemic through investment in academic public health
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The novel coronavirus pandemic is a public health emergency not seen in our lifetimes. And while we fully endorse calls to redouble our nation’s investment in public health infrastructure, investments in academic public health are just as crucial to ending this crisis and ensuring that we are better prepared for the next one.

Public health schools and programs, which train the workers dedicated to advancing the health of our communities and serve as incubators for innovative public health efforts, have stepped up in meaningful and visible ways during this difficult moment. Epidemiologists, immunologists, virologists and social scientists from public health schools and programs are building our knowledge base about COVID-19, showing time and time again that public health research is more important than ever.

It is time to recommit to America’s academic public health capacity by investing in three key areas—workforce, preparedness and addressing disparities. These actions will pay off in lives saved:

  1. Workforce. We call on Congress to create an Academic Public Health Ready Reserve Corps that can be activated in times of crisis. This corps of students, faculty, staff and alumni of schools and programs of public health will help meet national needs during a pandemic threat and ensure continuity of federal programs.
  2. Preparedness. We call on Congress to create and fund an Academic Pandemic and Prevention Resource Centers Network to serve as a sentinel network tracking infectious disease threats and providing regional educational resources for policymakers, legislators and the media. Additionally, we ask Congress to create and fund regional emergency operations center simulators at public health schools and programs to engage stakeholders in pandemic threat scenarios and develop response capabilities.
  3. Disparities. We call on Congress to create and fund a National Commission on Pandemic Health Disparities. COVID-19 is proving especially deadly for minority populations, as well people who are incarcerated or without a home. This commission would produce data on how and why this is happening and recommend strategies to minimize disparities going forward.

Academic public health was founded in the U.S. just before the influenza epidemic of 1918 claimed 650,000 American lives. Thankfully, we expect to emerge from the current epidemic with far fewer lives lost, thanks in large part to the progress our nation has made in public health.

But even at a time when the country urgently needs academic public health to advance our scientific capabilities, funding is endangered. Budgets for public health have been slashed by the Trump administration year after year, including cuts to our major public health institutions, from the National Institutes of Health to the Centers for Disease Control.

The administration has also proposed eliminating the CDC’s Centers for Academic Preparedness, the Prevention Research Centers and the Injury Control Centers, as well as critical worker protection research programs at the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and HRSA’s Public Health Training Center program.

Schools and programs of public health are integral to our nation’s efforts to combat and mitigate the effects of the current pandemic, as well as future threats posed by new and emerging infectious diseases, and chronic and non-infectious diseases. A strong and vibrant body of schools and programs of public health will be the bulwark of our protection against such future pandemics. Investments in the schools and programs of public health—and in U.S. public health more broadly—will pay off for life.

Laura Magana, PhD, is president and CEO of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH); Sandro Galea, MD, PhD, MPH, is chair of the Board of Directors of ASPPH and Dean of the Boston University School of Public Health.