Health experts stress importance of collaboration between colleges and government

BY KRISTEN EAST | APRIL 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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Government entities and schools of public health must work together for the health and welfare of society, local and national officials said.

Many officials visited the University of Iowa College of Public Health Building on April 20, including keynote speaker Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. He emphasized the need for more collaboration and research among colleges and different levels of government on 21st-century health-care problems.

"We don't have a health-care system in America — we have a sick-care system," he said. "In America, if you get sick, you get care. It's a disease-management approach. [We] wait until people develop serious illnesses and chronic deficiencies and spend trillions of dollars. This is absurd, and it's unsustainable."

Harkin — the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions — said he often seeks guidance from others when drafting national legislation, including faculty and staff at the UI College of Public Health.

"There's no question that experts at this college have had a profound national impact in the last decade," he said.

Harkin wrote the prevention title in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and a recent food-labeling bill, after asking UI officials for expert guidance.

Public-health school Dean Sue Curry echoed Harkin's comments, noting the college's collaboration on many national issues.

"… Collaboration is in the DNA of public health," she said. "We only succeed by working across boundaries and ideas."

Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said partnerships among national, state, and local public-health entities are critical in moving forward with health research.

"Institutions such as [the UI public-health school] and support of institutions like this are so critically important," he said. "It's a reflection of commitment to community. It's a reflection of being able to look beyond the numbers to see the faces and lives that those numbers reflect."

The CDC has close partnerships with both the UI and Iowa, Frieden said, giving millions of dollars in grants each year for different programs. Some of these partnerships include vaccine programs, farm and human health, and protection against chronic diseases.

In fiscal 2011, the CDC granted roughly $61 million to Iowa and roughly $5 million to the UI. According to its website, the CDC awards approximately $7 billion in grants each year.

"[The collaboration between] schools of public health and local government departments … strengthens both institutions," Frieden said. "It strengthens the school's ability to actually be working on practical concrete things and public health departments' ability to analyze the critical [aspects] about what they do."

The UI public-health school opened in 1999, but classes were scattered throughout campus until its own building at 105 River St. opened in January.

The roughly $48 million building houses five academic departments: Biostatistics, Community and Behavioral Health, Epidemiology, Health Management and Policy, and Occupational and Environmental Health.

UI President Sally Mason said the new building demonstrates an important investment in the health and welfare of society.

"There are few places in the state where you can go and not feel the influence directly or indirectly of the College of Public Health," she said.

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