Creating the Healthiest Nation: APHA 2023 Reflections and Calls to Action
December 14th, 2023 | viewpoint
December 14th, 2023 | viewpoint
Sasha Bianchi presents her poster on “Patient experience in low-threshold opioid treatment programs” at the 2023 APHA Annual Meeting & Expo.
The 2023 American Public Health Association annual meeting was a convergence of minds, ideas, and aspirations dedicated to a single purpose: overcoming social and ethical challenges. For many participants, this conference is not just a gathering but a transformative experience. We invited JSI experts to share insights and inspiration that emerged from their time at APHA 2023.
Boston University School of Public Health’s recognition of Muka Chikuba-McLeod and Kate Onyejekwe for their outstanding contributions to public health at the local, national, and global levels was a testament to the caliber and passion of our colleagues. Every day they collaborate with a range of partners from government, civil society, and the private sector to strengthen health systems and build healthier communities.
Among my favorite sessions was the “Bottom-Up Public Health: Input of Communities into Policy” and the APHA and Kaiser Permanente Community Fellows presentations. In the policy session, professionals from various public health sectors spoke of how important it is to elevate community members’ voices in decision-making to create a sustainable policy that has no harmful impacts. They helped me reflect on ways to build meaningful partnerships and center community voices while acknowledging my power dynamic in the situation.
As someone who is working on the Population Health Management Initiative in California with Kaiser Permanente, I was inspired by the Community Fellow presentations. I heard about the various projects that fellows worked on, such as implementing a social determinants screening and determining Medi-Cal redetermination strategies, and how it connects to my work.
Across topic areas and geographies, it was clear that person-centered approaches are essential not only for health care but also in the ways we work to improve health and well-being in our communities. To implement these approaches, we must involve community members in research, program design, implementation, and decision-making. We also need to invest in the public health workforce, especially community health workers!
As someone who focuses on improving data quality in countries around the world, I was interested to hear that the U.S. also needs help to provide actionable public health data, whether to state health departments, local actors, or national policymakers. I hope that the lessons we are learning globally can be applied in the U.S. to give decision-makers at every level access to timely, actionable, and high-quality data to design programs and policies to improve health outcomes.
An important takeaway was the essential role of trust between clients, communities, and program implementers in advancing every public health issue. Anne Schuchat, one of the winners of this year’s Fries Prize for Improving Health at APHA, said “People don’t care what you know until they know you care.” As a research and data person, one of the pathways I see for establishing trust with the clients/communities we serve at JSI is by centering their voices in all—but especially the early—phases of the public health data cycle. At APHA, I learned strategies for engaging communities in program/research design, data collection, and analysis from presenters working across domestic and international contexts.
For the twelfth year in a row, JSI partnered with APHA to host the Social Media Lab, offering attendees the opportunity to receive 1-on-1 technical assistance on using social media to advance public health. During 20-minute sessions, participants work with a JSI expert and receive advice and instruction to help meet their social media goals.
At this year’s conference, we trained 44 public health professionals on everything from enhancing their organization’s LinkedIn strategy to exploring new social media platforms. JSI experts presented at the Ignite Stage on LinkedIn, Threads 101, and TikTok. Here’s what a few of the participants had to say:
As we wrap up our reflections on APHA 2023, the insights in this blog form a mosaic of learning, each contributing to a broader understanding of public health’s evolving landscape. As we move forward, let’s carry the momentum into our work and use newfound knowledge and connections to propel our collective mission. Thanks to all who contributed; your voices have added depth to the narrative of our shared commitment to a healthier, more equitable future.