Available literature demonstrates that the United States public health’s infrastructure is greater now than ever before as national attention has been focused on governmental public health capacity and capability (Madamala et al., 2011).
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However, some sentinel events, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, HINI outbreaks, and rapid advances in childhood obesity, have exposed weaknesses in specific occupational categories in the public health infrastructure (Mays et al., 2010). The present paper demonstrates how the health promotion and disease prevention categories within the public health infrastructure contributed to the degeneration of the public health situation immediately after Hurricane Katrina.
Eight years ago, in late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast area of the United States with raw force and vengeance, triggering one of the most horrible natural calamities ever recorded in the history of the country.
Prior to the Hurricane Katrina landfall in the gulf area, various federal and local agencies were engaged in concerted efforts to evacuate susceptible populations from high-impact areas. Despite these attempts, however, many individuals did not or could not evacuate, resulting in a situation where more than 1,300 people died unnecessarily for lack of basic care, support and protection (Logue, 2006). Those who did not die experienced untold suffering due to the flooding caused by the Hurricane.
Extant literature demonstrates that “public health professionals should have a significant role both before and in the immediate aftermath of any disaster, either natural or human-made” (Logue, 2006 p. 10).
In the United States, public health services are delivered to the population through the collective actions of governmental and private agencies that can be divided into 3 broad categories, namely personal health services, community health services, and administrative services (Madamala et al., 2011). The health promotion and disease prevention categories within the public health infrastructure fall within the realms of community health services (Logue, 2006).
After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the right thing to do could have been to immediately avail public health leadership and public health presence to assist in the prevention of disaster-related mortality, consequent excess morbidity and underlying environmental health issues such as water pollution and mosquito infestation (Logue, 2006).
But this was not to be, hence triggering the perception among many people that the health promotion and disease prevention categories within the public health infrastructure failed in their cardinal duty of monitoring the health status of the affected population, with the view to identifying and solving community health challenges occasioned by the impact of Hurricane Katrina (Schneider, 2012).
The two departments also failed in their duties “to diagnose and investigate health problems and health hazards in the community, to inform, educate, and empower people about health issues, and to mobilize community partnerships and action to identify and solve health problems” (Logue, 2006 p. 10). Lastly, these departments, along with the surveillance and risk communication entities within the public health infrastructure, failed in their role to inform, influence, communicate, and collaborate with many other external agencies that to a large extent contribute to public health services in the United States (Schneider, 2012).
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is well documented in the literature (e.g., Logue, 2006; Schneider, 2012). More than 1,300 people lost their lives and thousands suffered unnecessarily due to worsening health conditions occasioned by excess flooding, mosquito infestations, and numerous water-borne diseases.
This paper has demonstrated how the health promotion and disease prevention categories within the public health infrastructure failed to not only move with speed to arrest the deteriorating public health situation immediately after Hurricane Katrina made a landfall near New Orleans, Louisiana, but also to collaborate with other external agencies to ensure minimal suffering of the affected populations.
Consequently, it is plausible for the government and public health leaders to re-examine national, state, and local health departments and agencies concerned with disaster preparedness and response, and to also train public health officials in disaster preparedness.
Logue, J.N. (2006). The public health response to disasters in the 21st century: Reflections on Hurricane Katrina. Journal of Environmental Health, 69(2), 9-13.
Madamala, K., Sellers, K., Beitsch, L.M., Pearsol, J., & Jarris, P.E. (2011). Structure and functions of state public health agencies in 2007. American Journal of Public Health, 101(7), 1179-1186.
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Mays, G.P., Scrutchfield, F.D., Bhandari, M.W., & Smith, S.A. (2010). Understanding the organization of public health delivery systems: An empirical typology. The Milbank Quarterly, 88(1), 81-111.
Schneider, M.J. (2012). Introduction to public health (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.