Award-winning writer gives global health warning
About 200 people filled Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center on Oct. 7 to listen to guest speaker Laurie Garrett, an award-winning journalist and science writer, speak on global public health and its effects on foreign policy and national security.
Garrett, the only person ever to receive a Pulitzer, a Peabody and a Polk award, came to GVSU as part of the Fall Arts Celebration 2013. During her lecture, she stressed that disease threats today can no longer be fought at the local level. Globalization has created an increased interdependence among people throughout the world, and countries are no longer separate entities existing independently of one another.
“What we have seen in the last decade is more and more governments trying to get away with not fulfilling their protection responsibilities,” Garrett said. “More and more governments are cutting budgets that are essential for emergency response. I think we are in a very difficult time globally in trying to make governments really fulfill their duties to its people, and I include our own.”
Vandana Pednekar-Magal, a professor of communications at GVSU, concurred. “The boundaries between local and global have blurred,” Pednekar-Magal said. “Global efforts are now needed to protect public health in local communities.”
Increased travel and trade among countries are only a few ways nations worldwide have joined together.
“Public health is an interconnected system,” said Fred Antczak, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “There is no person anywhere on this planet that isn’t affected by public health. Everybody is vulnerable and has to be a part of a comprehensive solution.”
However, Garrett said the U.S. government system is not equipped to handle a global pandemic. Budget cuts on the local, state and national levels have weakened public health efforts and caused numerous health department labs to outsource their work elsewhere.
“We have a deficit of 55,000 public health workers, compared to a year and half ago, in the United States,” Garrett said. “The question is now, ‘Who is there to take care of future public health problems?’ Those numbers are dwindling.”
The irony is that public health is one of the top 10 majors declared in undergraduate schools across the U.S.
“We are training an amazing assembly of skilled public health youth, but where are the jobs?” she said. “Where will they work?”
Garrett encouraged students to pay attention to Congress in the week ahead and to think about the reasons the government is shut down and what is at stake.
“One of the hallmarks in the past 10 to 15 years in world economics is an ever-greater concentration of world wealth in an ever smaller amount of human bank accounts,” she said. “Who do you think is going to pay for public hospitals if none of the rich ever go to the hospital and believe they shouldn’t pay any taxes for it? Then multiply that by every public service that you care about: your roads, your libraries, your schools and your public health infrastructure. Do the list and ask yourself if all this money is allowed to leave the system, then who is paying for all this and how? And that in the end is the single biggest problem for public health and global health at the moment.”