With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing renewed focus to the challenges facing the nation’s public health infrastructure, the American Medical Association (AMA) today adopted policy during the Special Meeting of its House of Delegates aimed at strengthening the infrastructure of U.S. government public health entities at the federal, state, territorial, local, and tribal levels and ensuring public health officials retain the authority to protect the public.
Specifically, the new policy calls on the AMA to advocate for consistent, sustainable funding to support public health infrastructure, incentives—including loan forgiveness and debt reduction—to help recruit and retain staff within the governmental public health workforce, public health data modernization and efforts to promote interoperability between health care and public health systems, and efforts to ensure equitable access to public health funding and programs. The policy also encourages public health agencies to communicate directly with the health professionals licensed within their jurisdiction about the status of the population’s health and opportunities to collectively strengthen and improve the health of the public.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the authority of and efforts by public health agencies have been undermined. This includes the politicization of public health measures, such as masking and vaccination, to mitigate the spread of the virus. To address this, the AMA’s new policy aims to help public health officials retain their authority to enact reasonable, evidence-based public health measures—including mandates—when necessary to protect the public from serious illness, injury, and death. The AMA will work with the federation of medicine, public health organizations, and other stakeholders to strongly support the legal authority of health officials and actively oppose efforts to strip such authority from them.
“Our country’s public health systems are woefully underfunded and lack the workforce and data infrastructure and interoperability needed to promote health and protect against threats and emergencies. The COVID-19 pandemic has resurfaced the urgent need to improve our nation’s public health infrastructure and ensure public health agencies have the authority to implement evidence-based measures necessary to keep the population safe from disease and save lives,” said AMA Board Member Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, M.D., M.P.H.
These policy recommendations are based on a report of the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health, “Full Commitment by Our AMA to the Betterment and Strengthening of Public Health Systems.” The report and its recommendations were informed by stakeholder interviews conducted with public health and physician experts, as well as members of the AMA Board of Trustees. The interviews identified eight major gaps or challenges in the U.S. public health infrastructure.
Under the new policy, the AMA will develop an organization-wide strategy on public health including ways in which the AMA can strengthen health and public health infrastructure and report back regularly on its progress. This is in alignment with the AMA’s longstanding policy calling for the improvement of and additional funding for public health infrastructure, as well as ongoing efforts over the years to bolster public health.