APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD, shares his message from the 2017 APHA Annual Report.

2017 APHA Annual ReportExercising leadership during good times is easy. Stepping up when times are tough? That’s a hallmark of a great organization.

As I reflect on the past year — and on the remarkable 145-year history of APHA, a truly great organization — I am immensely proud of our record of leadership in speaking out and standing tall, especially during difficult times. Remember, the path to better health has never been easy. Public health’s greatest achievements, from declines in tobacco use to record high immunization rates, were often fraught with formidable challenges and sometimes decades in the making. Still — for the most part — we always kept moving forward. At times we moved more rapidly than at others, but in the end we always made progress.

Our operating environment is no less challenging today. On funding, public health has faced declining budgets for a while. But recent legislative efforts — both federal budget proposals and elimination of the Prevention and Public Health Fund — would devastate the field’s capacity at nearly every level. At several points, combined legislative measures would have cut the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s budget by nearly one-third. It would be surprising (and shameful) if such cuts actually made it into law, but the very suggestion is deeply troubling and reflects a profound lack of understanding of what public health is and does.

On a separate front, we face a wholesale rejection of the regulatory and enforcement system that sustains vital health protections. An ongoing flurry of deregulatory actions is targeting a swath of public health priorities, from dismantling climate mitigation efforts to weakening school lunch nutrition standards. Our leaders have made plans to pull out of the nonbinding Paris climate accord, singled out transgender service members for discrimination, let funds expire for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, limited access to birth control for women and backed immigration policies that rip families apart. And despite the rhetoric, little has been done about the worsening opioid epidemic.

But few actions have been as troubling as watching some of our leaders push legislation and other efforts that would take health insurance away from millions of their fellow Americans. Instead of working to improve the Affordable Care Act and build on its many positive gains, our most powerful policymakers spent much of 2017 trying to gut the ACA’s protections, eliminate its Prevention and Public Health Fund, and turn Medicaid into a block grant. Even insurers took to publicly panning the proposals. Sadly, this legislative fight will continue, and we must remain extremely vigilant.

Needless to say, we have stepped up to lead this year. At each turn — with hard-fought public health gains on the line — APHA has spoken out and taken aggressive action. Our leadership has helped to stave off threats, galvanize opposition and lessen the impact of otherwise harmful decisions. For example, after federal officials stepped back from hosting a Climate and Health Summit at CDC earlier this year, APHA partnered with former Vice President Al Gore to fill the gap, organizing a Climate & Health Meeting that convened in Atlanta in February. After the White House delayed enforcement of ozone standards, APHA worked with others to file legal action, forcing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw its plans. We’ve publicly weighed in to protect access to Planned Parenthood; repeatedly called out climate science denials; and doggedly opposed ACA repeals, calling the efforts “legislative malpractice.”

Throughout it all, we’ve remained committed to supporting APHA members in their everyday work. Our American Journal of Public Health continues to publish ground-breaking research. APHA’s Public Health Policy Center produced innovative new resources on health reform and active transportation. The Nation’s Health, our award-winning newspaper, covered the latest in public health policy, science and practice. APHA’s 2016 Annual Meeting and Expo welcomed nearly 12,000 attendees to Denver. Public Health CareerMart continues as the No. 1 job source for pubic health professionals. APHA also designated 2017 as the Year of Climate Change and Health, providing the national leadership to bring awareness to the importance of climate change as a current health threat.

We can be sure more challenges are headed our way. Achieving our goal of creating the healthiest nation will not be easy. But this Annual Report reminds us of our success and issues an urgent call to action to the members, friends and supporters of this great organization — our Generation Public Health — that we must continue to lead and speak out. Together — and with unwavering dedication to science, truth and equity — we can and we will continue that legacy.

You can read the full 2017 APHA Annual Report on the APHA website.