Public health showcased

Despite the undergraduate effort that went into Yale’s Public Health Week, only a few students and community members showed up at Wilson Branch Library for the kickoff event Monday, organizers said.

As part of an annual national event organized by the American Public Health Association, the Yale Center for Public Health Preparedness is sponsoring a series of discussions this week on the importance of preparing for a public health emergency. The week’s events include four discussions throughout the city, each focusing on a different population that is considered particularly vulnerable to health threats.

The national theme for the week is “Take the First Step! Preparedness and Public Health Threats: Addressing the Unique Needs of the Nation’s Vulnerable Populations.” The events promote awareness of public health concerns and target families, hourly wage workers, students and community leaders.

Several students have been working in collaboration with the YCPHP and community health officials to promote student participation in these events. Coordinator Linda Bergonzi King said there has been a great undergraduate effort to spread information regarding the events, including e-mails, fliers and table tents in dining halls.

But at yesterday’s first event, which addressed comprehensive family preparedness, she said, there were hardly any students present.

“We had a very poor showing,” Bergonzi King said. “But students need to come. It gives them good insight into something they’re not usually thinking about at school.”

In an attempt to increase student attendance at Public Health Week events, Robert Nelb ’08 said he and a few other undergraduates are holding different informational events, including a barbecue lunch and outdoor activities. There has been a lot of collaboration between students and the School of Public Health in planning these events, he said, which has helped strengthen Yale’s public health community.

“Public health is one of those things where if you learn about it once, you’re really drawn into it,” Nelb said. “So we just need to keep getting students involved.”

Nelb, who serves on the board of the American Public Health Student Assembly, is a columnist for the News.

Despite Bergonzi King’s concerns about undergraduate participation, Nelb said he believes there is a large public health community — including about 80 different public health-related groups on campus — that continues to grow and take hold at Yale College.

YCPHP director Linda Degutis said Yalies might lack interest in public health because the issues seem distant and removed from students’ day-to-day lives.

When the systems in place to prevent public health disasters are working, Degutis said, the impact is invisible to anyone not working directly with public health. This may account for the low student and community turnout Monday, she said.

But Degutis emphasized that public health issues do impact everybody. Whether students know it or not, they are affected daily by public health concerns, she said.

“It ensures that individuals and the community are healthy, which affects everyone,” Degutis said.

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