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Sunday, August 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Misikir Adnew: Does the government care about your health?

Misikir Adnew

Does the government care about your health? How is the state spending your tax dollars?

The Spokane Regional Health District needs more funding to keep residents healthy.

Public health is not just about recording diseases or trying to control an epidemic. It’s also about solving problems like youth drug overdoses, making sure your source of water is not diseased, and finding better ways on how to deal with neighborhood safety issues – and sticking with the best practices. However, over the years, it seems like the government is taking funds away from programs that have actually worked and putting more funds into new ideas that haven’t been fully researched yet (just for the heck of it?).

In an article titled “State funding to prevent spread of infectious disease falls short, according to health secretary,” The Spokesman-Review reported a not too surprising case of public health funding that had been given to the Health District but was later withdrawn due to budget cuts. These funded programs were working alright, but, apparently, they are not what the government wants to focus on. The same article stated that “Washington is drastically underfunding basic public health services that hampers monitoring and preventing the spread of infectious disease,” according to state Health Secretary John Wiesman, and all this is usually due to the lack of qualified health experts in the planning phase of budgets.

“When public health works, you see nothing” is what I have heard over and over in my health science and community health classes at Whitworth University and in my public health internships. That is, when public health works, you do not hear of disasters, and the news media doesn’t report cases titled “disaster did not happen.” But then, the success of public health, unfortunately, heavily depends on funding – especially on governmental funding.

According to the Spokane Regional Health District, one of 34 local public health agencies serving Washington state’s 39 counties, and a leader in innovative strategies on how to solve public health crises, programs and funds to help people quit smoking have been eroding for years. Take for example the underfunding of the Youth Tobacco, Marijuana, and Vaping Prevention Program at the Health District – a program that is trying to keep youth away from mistaking e-cigarettes for candy. While interning for the program at the SRHD during my junior year at Whitworth, I definitely noticed the effects of under-funding in program implementation: though there were clearly very effective (and actually much cheaper) best practices that the district could implement, the government chose to put its funding elsewhere, so the program could not reach its goal.

Take it from the experts, prevention is much cheaper than treatment and there are professionals that know how to do it, but there simply is not enough money – and even when there is funding, and people’s health is starting to improve, it just turns out to be for a short time and then the government “moves on” to another project.

A blog written by the SRHD (from the previous budget year) paints a very clear picture: perhaps an outbreak like influenza, which this flu season already claimed 12 local residents’ lives and 221 lives statewide, is more convincing for skeptics in terms of a need to secure these funds for local public health. Perhaps, but it still doesn’t seem to stir up the government as much. The Health District is trying to help protect the health of the community but the state government is making it harder for it to do so.

To budget analysts who are looking at the short term, it might seem that there are pressing matters that have to be addressed, but I would argue (and my opinion would be shared by other public health experts) that funding public health would save the government money in the long run. Yes, other issues may come up, but health is a fundamental issue that the state government should be focusing upon.

Misikir Adnew is a graduating senior studying Health Science and Community Health at Whitworth University.

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