Flint. Detroit. Baltimore. Blacksburg.
It’s too easy to keep naming the places where we are failing our children. The list of failures is growing. Whether from lead in our water supply, failing schools, or another type of social contamination, such as our current violence epidemic, policymakers and practitioners have a special responsibility to act more responsibly to apply knowledge and assure we are doing all we can to create the conditions in which people can be healthy.
Is there a better way forward?
Recently I received a letter from the National Bioethics Committee of Pakistan requesting permission to reproduce an important network resource. This request prompted me to revisit some key principles in my own practice. Specifically, in 2002, the Public Health Leadership Society developed one of the most important code of ethics known to the public health field, the Principles of the Ethical Practice of Public Health. These twelve, simple guideposts provide us with the healthiest recipe of our time.
We live in a time of an unprecedented speed of social change. As public health professionals, many of us have been privileged to participate in structured leadership experiences supported by private foundations and our Federal government. The Public Health Leadership Society was on point in not only the twelve principles; the values that underlie principles of ethical practice are paramount to creating a more just and healthy society, and I invite all of us to come up for air and review them in our own practice so that we can ensure a better future by integrating elements of these values in our grant writing, our governance activities, our recruitment processes, position descriptions, training, and partnership requirements.
Among the most critical of the twelve principles, failure to protect health are often associated with our collective fear to act on the fourth principle; “Public health should advocate and work for the empowerment of disenfranchised community members, aiming to ensure that the basic resources and conditions necessary for health are accessible to all.” What’s more, equally important are the eleven core values that undergird all twelve principles of the ethical practice of public health. These values include:
Humans have a right to the resources necessary for health
Humans are inherently social and interdependent
The effectiveness of institutions depends heavily on the public’s trust
Collaboration is a key element to public health
People and their physical environment are interdependent
Each person in a community should have an opportunity to contribute to public discourse
Identifying and promoting the fundamental requirements for health in a community are of primary concern to public health
Knowledge is important and powerful
Science is the basis for much of our public health knowledge
People are responsible to act on the basis of what they know
Action is not based on information alone
I thank and applaud our colleagues in Pakistan for their request, as well as the original members of the Public Health Leadership Society responsible for organizing the values and principles we should all consider in our practice. I invite all colleagues to join NNPHI in a more intentional approach to adopt them in our practice and to share them will all in leadership positions, including newly appointed and elected leaders.
Let this be our collective legacy for tomorrow’s children.