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Public-Health Funding Today Keeps the Doctor Away

Public-health funding often competes with many other demands on government budgets. But by investing in robust public-health staffing and infrastructure, the United States and other countries can significantly reduce the amount of money spent on treating preventable diseases, ultimately freeing up funds for other purposes.

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, CONNECTICUT – With COVID-19 still an ever-present threat and monkeypox cases rising alongside existing chronic epidemics, building strong, responsive public-health systems has never been more important. In addition to improving data management (which I addressed in a previous commentary), we also need sustained investment and training in the public-health workforce.

Public health has always suffered from chronic underfunding, partly because the social and economic benefits of investing in preventive care are difficult to quantify or invisible to the untrained eye. Successes in containing disease outbreaks or reducing mortality rates often go unnoticed. Unfortunately, it often takes a massive failure of prevention to get policymakers and the public to recognize the need for greater preparedness.

Americans spend significantly more on medical costs than do people in other similar wealthy countries, yet still have lower life expectancy, higher rates of chronic disease and maternal mortality, and fewer doctors per capita. America’s underinvestment in public health is a major reason. Researchers developing cancer treatments have far greater access to funding than those working on cancer prevention.