Advocating at the APHA Annual Conference

PIH Advocacy and Policy Manager Donna Barry recently attended the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting in Washington, DC, and reported back about her experience:

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) annual meeting in Washington, DC.  APHA is a membership-organization of individuals working in public health, from environmental workers in Kansas to midwives in Uganda. Their annual 4-day conference brings together representatives from far and wide and gives them a platform to present their work to peers and learn from others. As PIH’s advocacy and policy manager, attending these meetings is an important part of the work that I and PIH engage in.

This year I gave a presentation on how NGOs can help strengthen public sector health services, using Haiti as a case.  As part of a panel organized by colleagues at Health Alliances International, this talk focused on how NGOs can positively engage the public sector to help alleviate the health care worker crisis and provide comprehensive health care to those who need it most.

I also organized a panel on reducing maternal mortality to try and expose why the past twenty years of effort to reduce maternal deaths have not been successful.  The panelists included Ann Starrs from Family Care International, who discussed the larger efforts to confront the tragedy of over 500,000 deaths per year related to pregnancy; Patricia Bailey from Family Health International, who presented specific interventions that have worked to save women’s lives; and Alicia Yamin formerly of Physicians for Human Rights, who discussed a human rights framework for assessing how countries and health systems can be judged relative to their efforts to reduce maternal deaths. Finally, Dr. Maxi Raymonville, Zanmi Lasante’s Women’s Health Director discussed the structural barriers to reducing maternal mortality, such as limited phone coverage and lack of transportation for obstetrical emergencies. He also focused on how ZL has tried to overcome these barriers, including the use of email and satellites when regular phones are scarce. For more details about the presentations, please click here.

In addition to these panels, PIH work was presented in a poster session and in a round table discussion. The poster presentation was based on research by Mary Kay Smith Fawzi, an Epidemiologist at PIH, and colleagues who interviewed youth in Boston's public high schools in resource-limited settings. Their study examined the prevalence of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among Haitian immigrant youth. Although other studies have focused on “externalizing” behaviors, such as substance abuse and high risk sexual behavior, few have examined “internalizing” symptoms like PTSD or depression. Conclusions included calculating a prevalence estimate of PTSD and depression of 14 percent and 12 percent. The study also examines the factors associated with these conditions and ways to intervene to improve the psychosocial health of immigrant youth from Haiti living in the U.S.  The poster was presented by Cate Oswald, a research coordinator with Harvard’s Program in Infectious Disease and Social change who works with several PIH projects in Haiti. For more details about the study, please click here
PACT staff members, Joya Lonsdale and Soridania Santana hosted the roundtable discussion on community health promoters. Their presentation was entitled, “Community health promoters’ role in improving health outcomes by focusing on HIV medication adherence in underserved communities in the U.S. using the Partners In Health accompagnateur model.” The discussion focused on how PACT’s community and home-based program helps HIV patients adhere to their antiretroviral medication regimen, despite having previous histories of adherence problems. The presentation was part of a lively session on community health workers as integral members of the health care delivery team. To learn more about PACT’s program, click here.

On the last day of this year’s conference, I attended the APHA Action Board meeting.  The Action Board is an arm of APHA that reviews policies that are passed by elected members during each annual meeting, and advocates for those policies on many different levels from city to national to international.  I was nominated to be a member of this committee for the next few years, and I look forward to the opportunity to infuse APHA policy and advocacy efforts with some preferential options for the poor. 

For some, large bureaucratic organizations like APHA seem like impenetrable bastions of old thinking which exist only to serve as conference organizers, and where mundane discussions of the same public health issues occur year after year. I confess to thinking just that for a long time, but after getting more involved, as a presenter and now Action Board member, I see the potential of engaging with like-minded public health workers and advocates to begin changing policy and programs that could have a large impact for those whom we serve. 

[published November 2007]