By Kelly A. Reynolds, MSPH, Ph.D.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) will hold their 137th Annual Meeting and Exposition in Philadelphia, PA November 7-11, 2009. This year, the APHA has placed water on the forefront of their agenda, with the theme Water and Public Health: The 21st Century Challenge.

With attendance expected to exceed 14,000 people, the annual APHA meeting is the largest gathering of public health professionals in the world. Collaboration between public health agencies and the water treatment industry are necessary to effectively improve and sustain access to safe drinking water globally.

The water treatment industry has the ability and responsibility to improve public health through the advancement and dissemination of new technologies and up-to-date information. Treatment technologies help to minimize contamination and exposure to harmful waterborne agents, while aiding in the sustainability of water.

About APHA

Founded in 1872, APHA describes itself as the “oldest, largest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world,” with a mission to “protect all Americans and their communities from preventable, serious health threats” and “assure community-based health promotion and disease prevention activities and preventative health services are universally accessible in the United States.”1 APHA membership and state affiliates includes approximately 50,000 professionals.

In addition to representing a wide range of health professionals, APHA provides a forum for presentation of the latest scientific study and reference information in the field. APHA Press publishes and sells many public health books and texts, including the popular reference text, Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater, 21st Edition.

The agency aids in the formation of groups and representation of ideas to forward the formation of evidence-based policy and practice for the promotion of healthy people and communities via disease prevention strategies and the protection of environmental health. Given that water plays a major role in health, there are many crossover opportunities between APHA and the water treatment industry.

Annual meeting highlights
Despite the generally high quality of drinking water in developed nations, many rural supplies are unprotected and municipal treatment is subject to contamination in the distribution system. In addition, emergency events or extreme precipitation have historically compromised water treatment and left populations vulnerable to waterborne disease. Addressing some of these concerns, APHA has assembled a variety of experts in the water and health fields to present at the annual meeting in November.

Over 1,000 scientific sessions are scheduled and more than 700 agencies and companies are expected to participate in the expo showcase. At the 2008 meeting, APHA provided thousands of hours in continuing education credits to public health specialists as an accredited provider of continuing-education programs.

The opening general session (November 8, 12:00-2:00 pm) will feature Celine Cousteau (granddaughter of the legendary Jacques Cousteau) for a discussion of her role as an educational environmental ambassador. Cousteau will explore the challenges of the 21st century related to protecting, conserving and managing our salt water and fresh water supplies. Other selected highlights from the 2009 meeting are listed in Table 1.

Future needs
The goals and mission of APHA are aligned with the water purification and treatment industry. Global programs in water treatment and sanitation have saved countless lives and municipal drinking water treatment is considered one of the greatest public health advances of all time. While municipal water treatment has minimized the surge of large-scale waterborne epidemics of cholera and dysentery in developed countries, basic treatments are not available to much of the developing world.

The influence of the APHA extends to an individual, community, state, national and global scale. Fifty-three state and regional public health associations are now affiliated with APHA. With the aid of public health professionals, APHA helps to identify needs and set policy on emerging issues in public health and is a respected resource for the news media and policy-makers. In addition, APHA is committed to global health and houses the Secretariat of the World Federation of Public Health Associations and works to educate professionals and strengthen public health initiatives worldwide.

According to the APHA 2008 report, a major priority is to bring the public into public health.2 As part of this effort, APHA launched the Get Ready campaign in order to build a national movement to enable Americans to be prepared to protect themselves in the event of any hazard or emerging health threat.

The water treatment industry provides products to help individuals protect themselves from waterborne contaminants, particularly in the event of an emergency where municipal-supply quality cannot always meet federal and state standards. Every household preparedness kit should include tools for drinking water treatment.

Although many in the water treatment industry focus on improved taste and odor, the impact of water treatment and purification on human health, particularly in developing regions, is staggering. Improving relationships and exploring partnerships with agencies such as the APHA would help to improve the health of individuals and communities while making sure accurate information is being utilized to educate the public, media and health professionals.

References

  1. APHA. American Public Health Association. www.apha.org
  2. APHA, 2009. American Public Health Association Annual Report/ Fiscal Year 2008. Available online at: www.apha.org/

About the author
Dr. Kelly A. Reynolds is an Associate Professor at the University of Arizona College of Public Health. She holds a Master of Science Degree in public health (MSPH) from the University of South Florida and a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Arizona. Reynolds has been a member of the WC&P Technical Review Committee since 1997. She can be reached via email at reynolds@u.arizona.edu.

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