By Dr. Hazel Dean, NCHHSTP Deputy Director
Homelessness is associated with disproportionate rates of various chronic and infectious diseases, poor mental health, substance abuse, and violence. These are real public health issues, and CDC is committed to addressing these issues in our public health work. Whether it’s providing epi-aid assistance for a TB outbreak in a shelter, or facilitating integrative STD/HIV/Hepatitis/TB screening and treatment services for those affected by unstable housing, we are committed to ensuring the opportunity for good health to all through enhanced prevention efforts and improved access to care.
The communities of persons affected by homelessness and those at risk of having inadequate or unstable housing are unfortunately growing. With the increase in foreclosures and other economic challenges, we must find ways to respond to the health needs of all populations. This country leads the world in many areas related to health, e.g., medical research and care, but we are not in the top 25 healthiest nations. But we can be again through ingenuity, commitment, awareness, and compassion. To succeed, we must be aware of individual and community factors in all populations. It is not one size fits all. We must provide health services in ways that fit the community, the city, and the individual.
Addressing the public health needs of the homeless population requires collaborative and integrative efforts across CDC and with our partners and constituents. Together, we are working to identify ways we can improve health across the spectrum of factors and environments that affect health choices. There is much that we can do to expand the way we think, talk about, and act to improve the health of all people in this country.
In 2009, CDC held an external consultation on Addressing Social Determinants of Health: Accelerating the Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB. Since this consultation, the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STDs, and TB Prevention has publish on our web site numerous resources to assist colleagues and partners in their efforts to address health and the factors that influence it.
Our commitment to prioritizing and promoting health equity is one of the six goals of the Center’s 2010-2015 Strategic Plan. We have much work to do and many conversations to have. In August, CDC is hosting a symposium that will focus on our work related to homelessness. The symposium will serve as a forum where the Agency’s work will be highlighted and better defined. The symposium will help facilitate the development of a network of CDC scientific and programmatic staff whose collective work contributes to the agency’s ability to reduce the health risks associated with homelessness.
I look forward to sharing more on these events and other activities of this Center through this blog and other communication tools. I invite your comments and input.