National Public Health Week 2013 highlights public health’s big returns on investment

April 4, 2013 – National Public Health Week (NPHW), being celebrated during the first week of April, focuses on what U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin calls the “extraordinary” returns that come from investments in public health initiatives.

In a video marking the beginning of NPHW—organized by the American Public Health Association to raise awareness about public health—Benjamin cited examples such as routine childhood vaccinations and the widespread use of child safety seats, both of which save thousands of lives and thousands of dollars in medical costs every year.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. HSPH’s John McDonough, professor of the practice of public health and director of the Center for Public Health Leadership, wrote in his “Health Stew” blog on Boston.com about 10 great public health achievements in the 20th century, compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HSPH has played a prominent role in many of those advances—which have all saved lives and dollars—through research, prevention initiatives, and education.

For example, HSPH researchers have fought AIDS through the HSPH AIDS Initiative and malaria through the Harvard Malaria Initiative; worked to reduce the harm from other infectious diseases such tuberculosis; polio, and more; highlighted the health hazards of tobacco; and touted the importance of good nutrition for health. And, as the obesity epidemic has led to ever-greater rates of chronic disease—diabetes, heart disease, and stroke—HSPH experts have examined the nature of the problem and the best ways to prevent it.

HSPH Dean Julio Frenk noted the economic benefits of public health in the Fall 2012 issue of Harvard Public Health magazine. “Health, of course, is an intrinsic value—an end in itself,” he wrote in the Dean’s Message. “But it is no contradiction to add that healthy people make for a healthier economy. In the U.S. and around the world, a strong and sustained investment in public health is the best policy bargain of all.”