The collapse of the public health sector in the USA and its inability to sustain the pressure of epidemics, infectious diseases, and viruses is a surprise to no one, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The public health emergency sector, which is the backbone of any country, has been the most ignored in the USA for years because the percentage of public health measures out of the health budget is merely 3%.
The turf war between health sector workers and people, the opioid crisis, inequalities, and racism are further exposing the USA public health crisis.
US Poor Health Infrastructure: Not Ready to Face the Next Pandemic
The United States is not ready to face the next pandemic, especially with this structure of the public health sector. And the pandemics are not to be stopped, seeing the pervasiveness of globalization of the world. Even the Nipah virus outbreak in India threatened the whole world.
A sustainable health infrastructure does not merely focus on emergency response but also on consistent, long-term funding along with a reliable permanent workforce, which is totally absent in the current US situation.
Because health and funding policies of this sector have been varied along with the changing political parties of different administrations, consider the example of the Affordable Care Act, for instance, where the priorities of Republicans and Democrats are completely opposite each other.
These variations were the main reasons behind the slow decline of health sector quality over the period of years.
The centers for disease control and prevention have been facing a reduction in their funds by half for the last 18 years. Recently, in 2020, the Trump administration announced a severe cut of 16% in the CDC budget.
Physicians and Health Sector Workers Facing Mammoth Challenges
The challenges of physicians and health sector workers increased rapidly in the wake of this pandemic.
They are facing a shortage of staff; 12% lost jobs, and 18% quit, since 2020, triggering a lack of authority in imposing their health orders, and the wrath of the public toward the health sector employees both at the state and local level because of strict COVID-19 vaccination rules.
For example, there are more than 100 laws that have been passed recently by legislators to reduce the power of employees in the health sector, such as putting a ban on mask mandates, increasing the power of county commissioners to veto the orders of the health workers, mov ing the power to impose school closures in the hands of school boards instead of health employees, and many more.
This will further diminish the health sector’s ability to combat viruses and other diseases.
They should be given strong authority and backup support to implement necessary health orders.
Secondly, people are tired of strict vaccination rules, mask mandate policies, indoor dining rules, and children vaccination.
They are expressing their frustration by abusing and threatening the workers of the health sector.
This inappropriate behavior of the masses can only be curbed, and their compliance to rules can only be assured if health sector members are given proper authority.
Inequalities and Racism Destroying the US Health Setup
Structural inequalities and racism have been the major factors that were hindering access to health and human services for people of color.
Black people experience frequent denial of treatments, and sometimes, they have to pay more and wait longer to get health services when compared to white people.
For instance, research of 400 hospitals illustrates that black people get old and low-quality heart treatment in contrast to white people, and their chances of early death due to heart disease are 30% more.
The issue of faulty algorithms is also severe, which pushes the people of color towards further doldrums.
This can’t be eradicated in a short period of time, obviously, as these are generational flaws and can only be treated through persistent and dedicated efforts in the long run.
The people of color should be approached in this regard, and more focus should be put on their opinions, as they can better express what kind of ill-treatments and hurdles they are facing.
For example, the Medicaid program was a good step in addressing their issues because out of 68 million people who are getting benefits from this program, 20% are African Americans.
Time to Think is Here for a Long Term Response
The structure of the US public health sector should be drastically changed from emergency response-centric to the long-term apparatus.
The supply of money only on the occasion of crisis and hiring of health sector staff on a temporary basis is not going to help in the long run.
Because when this funneling of money ends, these temporary workers will also leave their jobs, which is currently happening.
This kind of employee shortage can change a moderate crisis into a catastrophic one, like in the recent case of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the American rescue plan act is a great step and allocates $7 billion for the rebuilding of the workforce of the health sector, this will prove to be the only temporary channeling of money if the structural flaws of temporary workers, continuous funding, and inequalities are not addressed.
The pharmaceutical sector and medicine prescription procedures need to be regulated strictly; otherwise, their misuse will create many other crises like the opioid crisis.
The loopholes in the regulations were the main reason that pharmaceutical companies exploited and assured the state that people would not get addicted to the pain relievers of opioids.
But the total opposite scenario happened, and thousands of people lost their lives because of opioid addiction and overdose.
There could be several other crises like this that can happen if strict regulations are not enacted and enforced.
Public health agencies are not only health departments and hospitals at all.
The department of education, agriculture, housing and urban development, and the department of labor are also considered public health agencies.
People who do not have safe places to live and lack homes can face mental depression and torture.
Similarly, being unable to get food can put people at risk of diseases; the inability to get a good education can lead to low-paying jobs and hence financial problems.
In the same way, the violation of labor codes and the inability to get minimum wage prevents an individual from living a healthy and normal life.
Therefore, these are sectors that should also be considered as public health agencies and must be revamped for a proper futuristic setup.