The Times West Virginian

December 20, 2013

State makes gains with public health, infectious diseases, but it must do more

Times West Virginian

— Four out if 10. That’s a failing grade on any scale.

West Virginia only met four out of 10 standards in recent reports released by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. But the state is in good company.

The report found that outdated systems and limited resources are hampering the nation’s ability to prevent and control infectious disease outbreaks, and West Virginia is certainly among the states lagging in their approach.

That includes failing to meet benchmarks for flu and whooping cough vaccinations; not maintaining or increasing funding for public health programs from the 2011-2012 to 2012-2013 fiscal year; not vaccinating at least half of its population ages 6 and up during last year’s flu season; and failing to meet a federal goal of vaccinating 90 percent of preschoolers against whooping cough.

The state also failed to require or fund a cervical cancer vaccine for teens, or provide education about the vaccine for the sexually transmitted HPV; lacks a plan for severe weather, air quality and other environmental threats that affect health; and the state didn’t evaluate an emergency management plan through a real event or exercise in 2012-13.

Those are the issues.

There are things that West Virginia has been very proactive and progressive with when it comes to some programs.

“We believe (the state) is doing a good job at protecting against infectious disease threats, but we are always looking for ways to improve,” said Allison Adler, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Resources.

We can improve, and we need to. West Virginia has the opportunity to surge ahead of many states and serve as an example by concentrating on areas of public health that are lagging.

Just because we’ve made huge gains when it comes to public health and infectious diseases, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.

“We can’t become complacent against the threat that they pose,” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the group that completed the nationwide study.

We must constantly work to ensure that whether it be a normal day, a catastrophic event or a public health crisis, we are prepared.