Health leaders, including APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD, pay homage to former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop; and what does the looming sequester mean for emergency response systems? These stories and more top public health news on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013.
Associated Press — Highlights of nation’s most famous surgeon general
With a fiery drive belying the courtly beard and bow tie, C. Everett Koop led a groundbreaking fight against smoking and brought AIDS to the attention of a reluctant nation. Koop was the only surgeon general to become a household name, and health specialists say he used the bully pulpit to fight for Americans’ health despite political obstacles. “A less strong person would have bent under the pressure,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, who taught Koop what was known about AIDS during quiet after-hours talks in the early 1980s and became a close friend. “He was driven by what’s the right thing to do.”
“He spoke truth to power,” added Dr. Georges Benjamin of the American Public Health Association. He called Koop “a national hero.” Koop died Monday at age 96. Here are highlights of his career:
The Inquirer — Koop: A physician first
The death of retired U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop reminds me of his forthright answer to a question I asked him about AIDS. It was the early 1980s, and the Reagan administration was largely silent as thousands of Americans got sick and died. The President himself did not speak publicly about AIDS until 1985, four years into the epidemic. But Koop, who was surely as conservative as anyone in the Great Communicator’s White House, recognized early on that the threat to public health was grave, and anti-AIDS campaigns by organizations in the gay community were effective. Tall, bearded, and bow-tied, the Surgeon General was an imposing figure as he spoke to reporters during a visit to a private school in Cumberland County, NJ. I asked him about the federal response to AIDS, and while I don’t recall the words (and can’t find the clipping, either) I do remember him talking about the epidemic not as a political or “moral” issue, but as a danger to the citizens whose health he was sworn to protect.
POLITICO — Cuts could harm health emergency preparedness
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put out a new game called Solve the Outbreak that allows would-be medical sleuths to track dangerous diseases in a frightening cyber world. But if the sequester takes effect, CDC’s actual disease detectives may be a lot less prepared for an epidemic in the real world. “Fundamentally, CDC’s ability to protect the health of Americans would be severely compromised,” CDC Director Tom Frieden told POLITICO. “It would impact every CDC program. It would make us less able to find and stop outbreaks.” Frieden and other experts say that even before the automatic budget cuts that are set to go into effect Friday, the nation’s public health system was stretched dangerously thin. Recession-driven cuts in federal, state and local spending since 2008 have culled the ranks of public health workers nationwide by about a fifth — 46,000 fewer positions.
ABC News — Anorexia nervosa can strike and kill as early as kindergarten
Sophie started starving herself in kindergarten, giving up sweets at first, then taking smaller and smaller portions of food. She exercised compulsively on the monkey bars. But her parents had no idea she was developing anorexia nervosa because the active girl’s height and weight looked normal on the pediatrician’s growth chart. “She was slim, but not skeletal,” said her mother Anne, a college professor from Washington State, who did not want to use real names to protect their privacy. Sophie complained of being dizzy, having “itchy skin” and constipation, all symptoms of malnutrition. She later confessed that she had been throwing out her school snacks and lunches. And one night when her mother was tucking her into bed, she blurted out, “Mommy, I have a problem … I am hungry all the time and I can’t eat,” remembers Anne. “A voice in my head is telling me not to eat.”