Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Four-part series from PBS and KET tells the story of public health

To play the trailer for the series, click on the arrow button.
Kentucky Health News

"Public health saved your life today and you don't even know it."

That's the catchphrase of a PBS series that began on KET Tuesday night, about the history of public health and how it has extended Americans' life expectancy by 25 years in the last century with vaccinations, clean water, prenatal care, school lunches, restaurant inspections, workplace safety, and other measures that usually don't have high visibility but have become a key element of modern life.

That increased life expectancy "is the most impressive thing that we have ever done as a species," says Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, distinguished professor of practice at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and the main narrator of the four-part series, called "The Invisible Shield."

In recent decades, many Americans have taken public health for granted and have shifted from the idea that they should cooperate for health as members of a society to the notion that health decisions are a matter of choice for individuals and families. Experts say that resistance to vaccination, as well as obesity, drug overdoses and suicides, has led to U.S. life expectancy declining for the first time in a century, even before the pandemic, to the point that it is about four years less than other advanced countries. They also point to the fact that public health isn't a priority for government funding unless there is an emergency, like the Covid-19 pandemic, which plays a major role in the first episode.

Public health "is underfunded, undervalued and misunderstood putting our health at risk," the series website says. The site has a discussion guide, which says "The work of public health is made visible by public health emergencies (pandemics, outbreaks, etc.), when society depends on the expertise of people who previously were working in the background. This docuseries also highlights the role of public health professionals as the first line of defense during public health crises through their use of outbreak science, health patterns, and forecasting data. It surfaces the challenges in educating the public about the public health system. It hopes to encourage viewers to learn more about the various roles and jobs that exist in public health and to be a part of the invisible shield in the future."

The next episode of the series will premiere on KET at 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, but can be seen now on the KET website. The last two do not have airdates scheduled. KET says it plans to air the series on KET2, when all episodes are made available. Episodes can also be watched on the PBS website.

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