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The Future Of Nations Is Dependent
On Protecting And Nurturing Health

Health is much more than the absence of threats or disease and disability; it is a precious resource that helps to create productive satisfying lives for people, their families and economic security for their nation.

A very high value is placed on health, but all too often health is not protected. Indeed, the current investments in health protection in most developed countries are far overshadowed by expenditures to restore health once it is lost.

Ordinary but critically important risks to health come in many forms—genetic predispositions, gestational factors, socioeconomic circumstances, environmental conditions, personal lifestyles and behaviors, and lack of effective medical care. Individually these risks, many of which are preventable, adversely affect the health of millions of people, and collectively these risks create enormous disparities in health across populations. As a result, an alarming proportion of people are vulnerable to declining health status, and in most communities this proportion is increasing because the prevalence of various risks is increasing. Moreover, chronic diseases, injuries, and environmental and occupational hazards are major contributors to premature death, disease, and disability in western societies. The rapidly growing burden of these conditions and the cost of services to manage them are threatening the health and financial security of these nations.

Health protection must be prioritized—through preparedness; health promotion; and disease, injury, and disability prevention—at least as much disease treatment is prioritized, and these actions must occur now. Moreover, health protection research also must be prioritized to create a solid evidencebased foundation for the policies, programs, and practices necessary for success—at least as much as biomedical research is prioritized. Enormous investments in biomedical research have created new knowledge about the causes of illness, allowed the diagnosis and treatment of an astonishing array of medical conditions, and increasingly, have identified some effective prevention interventions. But for these new discoveries to truly benefit people in all communities, they must be translated into effective decisions and tools to support the needs of a diverse constituency of people at the frontline of health protection. Right now the evidence to guide this process is all too often lacking.

The future belongs to smart nations, to those that protect and nurture the health of their people and their environment. New insights and new innovations must be developed in the 3 domains of health protection research: preparedness for new and emerging threats; health promotion; and prevention of disease, injury, and disability. To do this requires reaching outside traditional boundaries to a much broader set of scientists, agencies, and sectors and requires fully engaging academics, partners, practitioners, and the public in
the process. There are significant barriers to closing the science
gap, most importantly underinvestment in areas such as translational research, prevention science, public health systems research, and the determinants of health and health disparities. Such action will require taking a long-term perspective on health rather than short-term economic gain based on treatment methodologies.

A plethora of well-intentioned research agendas has emerged from research institutes, centers, and agencies in recent years, and some of these explicitly target research activities that address preparedness, health promotion, and prevention. Unfortunately, many become tainted by outside influences and remain in a categorical state highly focused on activities that do little or nothing to advance any of the above target research activities that address prevention rather than treatment.

Western nations are an excellent example of how corrupt government agencies have influenced the health of their people based on a treatment model. For example, the United States has little or no investment in the health infrastructure of its people and virtually no effort to protect its environment. America is fixated on short-term thinking and stop-gap measures, ignoring the greater concerns of prevention education, renewable energy and individual health, all for short-term economic gain. The end result and fate for Americans will likely resolve to disease pandemics, environmental collapse and serious deficiencies in food production.

If there is ever to be a reversal of such trends in America and other developed nations who follow short-term mentality, both private and public sectors must invest in and have a strong stake in the content of any health protection research agenda, and such initiatives must be committed to fully engaging public participation in the process. These and other efforts are important advances, but the desire for transparency, quality, and accountability will likely motivate even more creative and useful methods in the future, to ensure that the public can directly contribute to decisions about its health, and ultimately affect the success and future of their nation.



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