Baton Rouge—As part of National Public Health Week, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is recognizing its Office of Public Health (OPH) and its more than 1,300 employees who strive to promote and protect public health each day. National Public Health Week is April 1- 7, and was initiated by the American Public Health Association in 1995 to recognize the contributions of public health and highlight issues that are important to improving the nation's health.
DHH's Office of Public Health oversees community and preventive health programs, emergency preparedness, environment health, food inspections, vital records and primary care and rural health.
"DHH is extremely proud of the work our Office of Public Health accomplishes daily," said DHH Interim Secretary Kathy Kliebert. "Educating the public on potential public health threats and healthy practices is an essential part in continuing to improve health outcomes in our state. Through its numerous programs, OPH impacts the lives of every person in Louisiana."
"Whether we are testing seafood and water to ensure they are safe for consumption, promoting tobacco-free living or protecting our residents from threats of bioterrorism, natural disasters or infectious diseases like West Nile virus or seasonal influenza, the public's health is our mission," said J.T. Lane, Assistant Secretary for Public Health. "Our engineers, doctors, emergency responders, nurses, epidemiologists, health inspectors and environmental health experts work around the clock to protect our residents and promote the better health of our state."
OPH's employees support dozens of programs to keep Louisiana residents healthy and informed as they interact with everything from oysters to each other. The Molluscan Shellfish Program, the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section and the Louisiana Tobacco Control Program are just three examples of the vital work OPH employees perform every day.
Louisiana produces about 13 million pounds of oyster meat each year, more than 37 percent of the nation's oysters, which has a huge impact on the state's economy. DHH's Molluscan Shellfish Program ensures these oysters are safe to eat by inspecting the oyster meat, testing the oyster growing waters and monitoring the state's 30 oyster harvest areas which span the entire coast of Louisiana.
West Nile virus and seasonal influenza are just two of the many diseases that could be a threat to Louisiana's residents. OPH's Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section identifies, tracks and investigates outbreaks and warns the public to help prevent the spread of these communicable diseases. Each year, the department's epidemiologists monitor the spread of West Nile virus and seasonal influenza. They are the front line of defense when it comes to disease outbreaks and protecting public health.
The Office of Public Health's Tobacco Control Program prevents youth initiation of tobacco, reduces exposure to secondhand smoke, promotes cessation among tobacco users and identifies and eliminates tobacco-related health disparities. In the past year, 46.2 percent of Louisiana smokers stopped smoking for at least a day in an attempt to quit smoking. Currently, 52 school districts across the state have gone 100 percent tobacco free. The school district's commitment allows children and teachers to enjoy a smoke-free environment, eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke and the harmful effects it has on people. From 2009 to 2011, Louisiana has seen a 46 percent decrease in cigarette prevalence among middle school students.
Public health has recently focused on furthering and strengthening relationships with local governments, foundations and community organizations to ensure more Louisianans are born healthy and have the opportunity to grow, develop and live in safe and healthy environments, promoting the physical, mental and social health of individuals and families. Lane said, "Everyone, every work place, faith-based organization, health care provider and school are a critical part of the public health network of our state. Everyone can have a positive impact on their families, friends, clients, patients, students and co-workers to live a more healthy life."
Public Health professionals are motivated daily by individuals and communities working together to improve their health. As custodians of the public's trust and money, OPH strives to stay connected to what is most important to improve the health of individuals and families. For more information on the Office of Public Health and its programs, visit www.dhh.louisiana.gov.