Top 5 Public Health Jobs (that have nothing to do with public health)

September 20, 2010

For a long time, I’ve had an idea for a post that I never fully developed. Finally, I’m going to post it. Perhaps some of the potential insights are only partially percolated in the post; regardless, we proceed.

To me, the question “How can I save the world?” always seemed to imply “How can I help the sick? How can I make people live longer, happier lives?” I’m not sure if this is a common association, but an enormous amount of impact can be made through broadly improving public health.

Almost all of the world’s greatest tragedies are issues of public health. While the discipline often focuses on disease epidemiology or health policy, other major events clearly affect the health of populations: war, climate change, mental stress, natural disasters. Objectively, public health is not just vaccinating children but bringing conflict resolution, preparing for hurricanes, improving family dynamics, paving roads, building bridges (physical and metaphorical), and improving the quality of life for large numbers of people.

Unfortunately, such a broad scope can’t really be covered in a Masters program. Instead, we learn biostatistics and memorize long lists of risk factors for cancer, infectious disease, and other behaviors that lead to sickness. (It turns out, being really poor makes being healthy really difficult).

All of these many health-related disciplines, however, need leaders. And since getting an MPH can slow people down for two years, I’ve compiled a personal list of the top five occupations that I believe achieve the most public health (i.e. save-the-world) impact.

1) Teachers
One of the most impressive correlations that exists (in my opinion) is the correlation between health and education. From a 2007 NY Times article:

The one social factor that researchers agree is consistently linked to longer lives in every country where it has been studied is education. It is more important than race; it obliterates any effects of income.

Education improves the economy, decreases risky behavior, and even cuts down smoking; not to mention the vocational training in finding stable employment and improving the economy.

2) Engineers
According to charity:water, unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. The social consequences are equally destructive:

In Africa alone, people spend 40 billion hours every year just walking for water. Women and children usually bear the burden of water collection, walking miles to the nearest source, which is unprotected and likely to make them sick.

Time spent walking and resulting diseases keep them from school, work and taking care of their families. Along their long walk, they’re subjected to a greater risk of harassment and sexual assault.

In many places, water is hard to come by. There needs to be water infrastructure and to create this infrastructure we need innovative engineers. Plain and simple.

Engineers have done a lot to help the world. From the CBS Business Network:

Engineers have built more than 36,000 large dams around the globe to control floods and provide hydroelectric power, irrigation, industrial supplies, and drinking water to an expanding population and economy.

3) Politicians (kinda)
Poor governance in low-income countries ultimately causes A LOT of global health problems. Poverty becomes exacerbated. Public interventions fail due to corruption. Private markets cannot be efficiently regulated and open the door to exploitation.

Maybe Wycleaf Jean had the right idea on how to help the poor: become a politician.

Admittedly, although many problems are caused by governance, I don’t know that being a non-corrupt, intelligent, or even musically talented politican is the best way to overcome the problem. Bureaucracy, international relations, and other social, political, and economic dimensions discussed in a long list of Yale seminars aren’t easily solved by one Senator’s voice.

But hopefully there will always be people like Nelson Mandella, John Adams, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and others to prove me wrong.

4) City Planners
There are more people in the world that face obesity than malnutrition. When I first heard that I was amazed. Now, admittedly, it makes sense.

Coined the “obesity epidemic,” a epidemiological transition has led to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other BMI-related chronic diseases to (appropriately) take the foreground in Western health policy. (In just about every public health class I have ever taken, obesity is one of the first issues that is discussed).

What can be done to prevent obesity? There are lots of alternative ideas being thrown around: sugar taxes, gym subsidies, improved health education, high quality healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods. All have potential, but one area that needs more emphasis is city planning.

To improve food security, encourage walking, and get people out of the BK breakfast->cubicle->episodes of Lost->bed routine, we need city designers.

In New Haven, I ride my bike or walk everywhere. I have access to nearby healthy foods and a gym. I have groceries delivered to me from a nearby grocery store. (Incidentally, grocery story delivery man could deserve an honorable mention for this list: finally, a way to maybe get produce and fruit to low-income neighborhoods).

By creating cities that can be navigated on foot (with efficient transportation) instead of relying on cars and highways, urban planning can create metropolitan hubs that have improved access to healthy foods while increasing exercise and even decreasing a reliance on (economically- and environmentally-) costly vehicles.

5) Journalists
I like to think I’m an idealist and an optimist. Yet, I get overwhelmed with global problems and discouraged trying to make an actual difference. It is during these times I consider dropping out of school, becoming a Park Ranger, and leading a content life in the wilderness. Or, investment banking.

Despite basically focusing on many of the world’s greatest tragedies, journalists like Nicholas Kristof inspire me and get me back on track. In order to truly address the plethora of public health issues (whether germs, genocide or gender inequality), we need to hear about them. Journalists bring these issues into the spotlight. They inspire. They mobilize. They tell people about the enormous disparity and they recruit the future leaders that will devote their lives to ending them.

Oprah can mobilize a social movement. Ben Franklin used journalism to influence the American Revolution. Glenn Beck can (unfortunately) get millions of people to hang on to his every word. This is a powerful tool to create enormous shifts in our world. Unfortunately, the economic future of journalism remains uncertain so it probably won’t pay that well.

At least there are always blogs.

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Today is World Water Day

March 22, 2010

March 22 is World Water Day.  You can donate your voice (via Twitter or Facebook) to raise awareness.

charity: water is launching Unshaken – a campaign to help Haiti recover by providing long-term clean water solutions.  100% of donations directly fund water projects in 11 areas in Haiti.

Katie Spotz rowed across the Atlantic Ocean solo to raise awareness and funds for clean water.  She was the youngest person to ever make the trip.  NYTimes article here.

To celebrate, you should check out the greatest coffee table book you can own from Blue Planet Run: It is beautiful.

Every 15 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease. On average, every US dollar invested in water and sanitation provides an economic return of eight US dollars.  Learn more about the facts here.

Three twitters worth following: @water, @GoBluePlanetRun and @charitywater


The Only Place You Should Buy a Water Bottle

November 4, 2009

…is now Pangea Bottles. There’s no need to purchase one anywhere else.

Pangea Bottles is founded on a simple concept: for every bottle you purchase, Pangea is giving a person in need clean water for four years.  By donating a portion of the revenue from every bottle toward drilling water wells in isolated villages around the world, we are changing people’s lives in remarkable ways.  Our mission is to provide the people in developing nations clean water by leveraging the power of individuals to make a difference in a sustainable way.

Check out their awesome site.  And check out this video (via charity:water) on Why Water?


SPOTLIGHT CHARITY: charity:water

October 22, 2009

Sad statistics get really boring after a while.

Half the world lives on less than $2 day. There are 10 new cases of malaria every second.  One in 12 people in the world are malnourished. We hear truly jaw-dropping facts all the time yet few individuals are truly motivated to rally for a cause.

So how can someone make a real difference? Inefficient aid bureaucracies, ubiquitous corruption, and ineffective organizations make sure that every donated dollar gets farther away from making any real impact.

Charity needs a re-branding phase and get ready, it’s starting to take form. The leading pioneer (and recipient of my Spotlight Charity award):  charity:water, an organization that brings clean water to people in developing nations. Charity:water does one thing, and it does it well: it tells a story.

Why charity:water Rocks
1) 100% of every donated dollar directly funds water projects
.
All administrative costs are already covered by a partnership with top donors (apparently known as “the well”). Every donated penny is directly outsourced to partnered programs that then build the pumps. Therefore, any donor’s qualms about overhead costs are straight-up bogus–you’ll have to come up with a new excuse not to donate.

2) They market like a successful business should.
Check out their website–it’s truly incredible and has some great visuals that get their message across:

They also have AMAZING videos.

New York Times columnist and personal hero, Nicholas Kristof went so far to say, “Any brand of toothpaste is peddled with far more sophistication than the life-saving work of aid groups.” And he’s right. One of the most significant problems of charities is an idea that a social mission absolves their organizations from managerial or marketing skills. It doesn’t!

3) They’re hip.
Charity:water utilizes social networking resources better than an emo high-schooler looking for new friends. The organization raised over $250,000 through the Twitter Twestival event and has well over a million Twitter followers. (In case you haven’t jumped on the Twitter bandwagon yet: that’s a lot of followers. To compare, the American Red Cross has around 26,000, or 2% of C:W).

5) They’re creative.
And not just in their graphic design. Check out their new community page that allows fans to run marathons, grow beards, and give up birthday presents to increase support for their organization. Their September birthday campaign raised over $1 million itself, providing clean water to more than 500,000 people.

4) Donors see the difference.
Every time charity:water funds a new well, the group takes photos and uploads them with GPS coordinates to a Google map so you can see your contribution at work.

Charity:water officially wins the inaugural *Berk Outstanding Achievement Award* for excellent marketing, efficient allocation of donor funds, and providing an effective solution to one of the world’s greatest public health crises. Congratulations to them.

And to readers: check out the SocialVibe banner to the right; watch a sponsor’s commercial and help support the C:W cause.  Any nominees for future award considerations?