- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2001

Public health system has foot in mouth



Your March 30 editorial, "Beware foot and mouth," makes a strong point, which deserves elaboration. The threat of an epidemic is due not just to lax immigration controls, but to the fact that the nation´s public health infrastructure has been allowed to lose focus of its original purpose of preventing communicable diseases.

Since the eradication of smallpox in the 1970s, the perception in the population has been that infectious diseases are not a problem, or, if they are, as in the case of AIDS, they are confined to a small population. As a result, the political debates on health have tended to focus on health care and peripheral issues such as smoking. State health departments have tended to shift focus from communicable diseases to other areas of public health such as teen pregnancy and smoking prevention. Drinking water sanitation, perhaps the most significant contribution to public health, was transferred by the federal government from the Public Health Service to the Environmental Protection Agency, where the culture favors punishing non-compliant utilities rather than fixing problems.

The same can be seen in academic public health. The health policy program I am enrolled in, at the School of Public Health of the University of Minnesota, has but two professors out of nearly two dozen who have research interests in traditional public health the rest are more concerned about insurance issues. The department of epidemiology has but three faculty members who deal with infectious disease in a similarly sized faculty. Most medical schools include minimal exposure to public health and infectious diseases in their curriculum. As a result, we are not conducting appropriate research or properly training personnel to deal with such a threat.

Last year, a National Intelligence Estimate listed epidemic disease as a significant potential threat to national security, yet the trend continues to be to allow the infrastructure to deteriorate in favor of other priorities. The state health department for which I used to work has seen no significant upgrade to its microbiology laboratory, unless grant-funded, since the early 1980s, meaning that a sizable portion of the equipment is more than 30 years old and failing. The funding through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention´s bioterrorism program has helped somewhat in propping up the infrastructure, but it does not meet the levels that are needed from both state and federal governments.

The last decade has seen rising rates of tuberculosis, new waterborne disease threats such as the cryptosporidium outbreak that sickened more than 100,000 in Milwaukee in 1994, a new hemolytic strain of E. coli, and other threats. Signs are appearing that AIDS rates may once again rise. We need to halt, if not reverse, the trends in the American public health system in order to deal with such issues, which, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the 1970s, have not gone away.


GEORGE AVERY

Duluth, Minn.

Tenleytown residents group do not endorse tower

As president of Tenleytown Neighbors Association, Inc., a nonprofit corporation with more than 200 members who reside in the Tenleytown neighborhood, I am responding to a March 18 Commentary Forum article by William Reed, president of the Business Exchange Network ("The hour of the tower"). Mr. Reeds article, which addresses the American Tower controversy, is highly misleading.

First, Mr. Reed erroneously refers to a recent meeting with Advisory Neighborhood Commission members at Tenleytown Library attended by representatives of American Tower. The meeting did not involve the ANC, as Mr. Reed stated the meeting was the March 1 membership meeting of TNA. TNA invited the tower representatives so that TNA members could consider both sides of the issue. Timothy Cooper, of Stop the Tower Citizens' Coalition, had made a presentation at a previous TNA meeting.

Second, Mr. Reed claims that our group (or the ANC) is in favor if the tower, apparently because the members listened politely to the presentation and asked questions in a civil tone. In fact, TNA never endorsed the tower project. Nor has it taken a position on the issue. Willingness to listen to a point of view is not the same as agreeing with that point of view. There are conflicting facts that have been advanced about the tower, and it seems to me that distortions of fact by those favoring the tower about the events at our meeting does nothing to advance their credibility.

Finally, Mr. Reed implies that Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Mr. Cooper were afraid to attend the meeting. TNA members generally do not expect the mayor to attend our monthly meetings. Mr. Cooper´s previous attendance was as a guest speaker. He is not a member of TNA, but he is most welcome to join us.


CHERYL M. BROWNING

President

Tenleytown Neighbors Association Inc.

Washington


Boy Scouts should replace fishing badge with 'waterway cleanup' badge

The 700,000 members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have asked the Boy Scouts of America to retire its "Fishing" and "Fishing and Wildlife Management" merit badges ("Hey, animal religionists, back off those fishing Boy Scouts already," Sports, March 21).

As a former adult volunteer for the Boy Scouts, I saw firsthand the reluctance of many children to hurt fish and other animals. Their wonderful natural empathy toward animals should be encouraged, not destroyed. I taught my troops that being a man means being compassionate. At our meetings and wilderness outings, we learned how to help both humans and animals. I gave instruction about CPR, the dangers of drugs and ways to respect wildlife by simply observing it.

Having Scouts put hooks through worms, or frogs´ mouths or minnows´ backs, to trick fish into impaling themselves on those hooks, and then ripping the fish from the water to gasp and struggle desperately for their lives is a far cry from the Boy Scout law, "A Scout understands there is strength in being gentle."

Science has now proved that fish feel fear and pain just like other sentient beings. "Hunting in the water" is no longer considered a benign activity.

The Boy Scouts should promote activities that teach compassion and offer badges for only humane outdoor activities.

Also, Scouts can perform a marvelous service to communities, wildlife, and the environment by clearing debris from beaches and waterways. What a great sense of accomplishment and civic pride this would provide these boys. The old fishing merit badge should be replaced by a "Waterway Cleanup" badge.

Nobel Prize winner Dr. Albert Schweitzer said, "The thinking human must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition or surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another, even the lowliest creature."

It is time to put fishing behind us and teach children to respect, rather than kill, wildlife.


SEAN GIFFORD

Vegetarian Campaign Coordinator

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Norfolk, Va.

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