Michael R. DeBaun, MD, MPH
Ferring Family Chair in Pediatric Cancer and Related Disorders and Professor of Biostatistics and Neurology, Department of Pediatrics, Washington University School of Medicine
This past March, ASH, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), co-sponsored the first National Conference on Blood Disorders and Public Health. The purpose of this conference was to begin to develop a nationally recognized public health framework for promoting the health of and improving outcomes among people at risk for or affected by non-malignant blood disorders. Public health interventions focus on preventing rather than treating a disease through surveillance of cases and the promotion of healthy behaviors. In helping to design the conference, ASH tried to incorporate the critical role of a hematologist in implementing effective public health strategies to prevent hematologic disease.
During the conference, there were simultaneous sessions that presented innovative public health strategies to prevent or reduce the burden of blood disorders. In addition, the conference showcased evidence-based public health strategies designed to prevent and/or eliminate blood disorder-related health disparities.
Approximately 400 individuals attended the conference, including representatives from state and federal agencies, patient advocacy groups, public health practitioners, and medical professionals. The breadth and depth of expertise was refreshing, and the extensive networking opportunities were quite impressive. Despite their common interests, individuals from the various disciplines of hematology, health policy, health services research, and public health rarely have the opportunity to attend the same meetings and discuss their specific viewpoints regarding blood disorders.
State Health Officer Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH, from the Washington State Department of Health delivered the keynote address. Her poignant presentation titled “Non-Malignant Blood Disorders: Is There a Role for Public Health?” focused on how common blood diseases such as hemophilia, venous thromboembolism, and sickle cell disease are, but how infrequently they are considered public health diseases. In fact, Dr. Hayes pointed out that each disease meets the major criteria required to be considered a public health disorder.
Other highlights of the meeting included sessions on the public health response to blood disorders. Public health leaders and hematologists Drs. Susan Shurin from NHLBI, Michael Soucie from the CDC, and Gary Raskob from the Oklahoma School of Public Health delivered presentations on sickle cell disease, thalassemia, hemophilia, deep-vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism. The sessions provided a solid foundation for developing partnerships between various federal agencies that have distinct programs for each of the blood disorders. After each session, the speakers were peppered with lively questions from the audience, including specific challenges regarding the lack of a common agenda between the federal agencies, public health departments, academics, and advocacy groups. The conference really energized attendees to look at blood disorders from a broad perspective and to begin to discuss the need to create a unified public health response to the needs of people with blood disorders.
ASH members were well represented at the conference and are encouraged to participate in the ongoing dialogue about creating public health strategies to prevent blood disorders. By working together with our public health colleagues, hematologists can incorporate blood diseases in federal and state public health priorities so that, working together with practitioners, we can decrease the burden of blood disorders. This nascent movement will undoubtedly gain momentum; all interested ASH members are encouraged to stay tuned for future opportunities.
The Society’s participation in the conference is part of a broader ASH initiative to create a public health response for blood disorders. ASH recently developed a work group to help guide the Society’s public health agenda; anyone interested in participating in this effort should contact ASH Government Relations Manager Stephanie Kart at email@example.com or 202-776-0544.
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