April 4-10, 2011 is National Public Health Week. This year’s theme, as designated by the American Public Health Association (APHA), is "Safety is No Accident: Live Injury-Free." I know you have big plans, but please celebrate safely.
We’re excited that the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy (JHCIRP) will co-host a kick-off event on April 4th with APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin and Maryland Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein.
As someone who has devoted the majority of his professional career to understanding and preventing injuries, I think about injuries more than most people.
In fact, a 1988 National Academy of Sciences report described injury as “probably the most under-recognized major public health problem facing the nation today…” There are almost 30 million serious, non-fatal injuries in the United States each year. Of these, 180,000 result in death, making injuries the leading cause of death for persons ages 1-44 in the U.S. Think about that for a moment – the leading cause of death. That’s more than heart disease, cancer, or AIDS for this age group. And because injuries so prominently affect young people, they steal more years of potential life before age 65 than any other cause of death.
But there’s actually a lot of good news, too. We’ve learned a great deal since 1988 about how to prevent injuries. For example, in 1988 there were 47,000 road traffic deaths in the U.S. In figures just announced April 1st, that total fell to less than 33,000 in 2010, a drop of about 30%. And though we’d of course like to have fewer deaths, the death rate per mile traveled declined by even more – better than a 50% decline since 1988.
As a society, how did we manage that? Maybe it’s easiest to say what we didn’t do. We didn’t rely solely on public education campaigns or moral persuasion to encourage drivers to always be safe behind the wheel.
Instead, we also used the law (legislation and regulation) to mandate safer cars, require the use of seat belts and child safety seats, and reduce drunk driving (among many approaches). It’s time to apply a similarly comprehensive approach to the prevention of other types of injuries.
That’s one reason we’re especially excited that Drs. Benjamin and Sharfstein will tour the CARES Mobile Safety Center during the National Public Health Week event. The Mobile Safety Center is a large vehicle that travels to local communities to promote injury prevention in the home and in traffic. Inside are fun, interactive exhibits that demonstrate risks in the home environment – a hot stove, a house fire, unsafe poison storage – designed to teach children and parents alike what they can do to reduce their risk. But the Mobile Safety Center does more than teach about preventing injuries. It also provides low-cost safety products such as car seats, carbon monoxide detectors, cabinet locks and access to free smoke alarms. This service is brought to the community through a partnership between JHCIRP and the Baltimore City Fire Department, with funding from private and government sources.
The Mobile Safety Center is part of an effort throughout the field of injury prevention to better translate what we know about prevention into effective programs and policies. Just as we want the communities impacted by injuries to learn about prevention, we also want policymakers to understand the important role they can play in reducing injury through sound policy. By providing legal technical assistance, the Network for Public Health Law hopes to be an important part of this effort as well.
This information was developed by Jon S. Vernick, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy; and partner of the Network for Public Health Law – Eastern Region.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.