Louisiana: High Rhetoric on Ebola, Low Concern for Public Health

The 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene begins in a couple days in New Orleans Louisiana. In preparation for this event the Governor of Louisiana through the Department of Health and Hospitals dis-invited any conference participant who has been to an Ebola-affected country (Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone) with the following information:

Lousiana StateNOTICE TO TRAVELERS: From a medical perspective, asymptomatic individuals are not at risk of exposing others; however, the State is committed to preventing any unnecessary exposure of Ebola to the general public. As part of that commitment, we have requested that any individuals that will be traveling to Louisiana following a trip to the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone or have had contact with an EVD-infected individual remain in a self-quarantine for the 21 days following their relevant travel history. In Louisiana, we love to welcome visitors, but we must balance that hospitality with the protection of Louisiana residents and other visitors.

Not only does this decision, which bars many people who had no contact with patients or infected people, lack scientific backing, it is also unlikely to do much for health of Louisiana. These citizens actually need more that fearful proclamations to protect them. Louisiana needs to step up its public health efforts to show it really cares about its residents instead of political grandstanding.

America's Health RankingsAmerica’s Health Rankings from the United Health Foundation presents some interesting information on each US state – not just its ranking overall, but factors that contribute to this ranking. Overall, Louisiana ranked 48th in 2013. While there are 30 key indicators, ranks on individual vary with 24 being negative and 6 having a positive influence in the Louisiana’s overall 2013 rankings. Some problem areas are noted below:

  • Obesity 50th
  • Smoking 46th
  • High School Graduation 46th
  • Low Birth Weight 49th
  • Infant Mortality 48th
  • Infectious Disease 48th
  • Preventable Hospitalizations 48th

Of particular interest is public expenditure to address health problems. Here Louisiana ranks 19th at $87 per capita, below the national average. “After 4 years of increases, public health funding (in Louisiana) declined in the past year,” according to America’s Health rankings.

Nationally, “Public health funding ranges from more than $200 per person in Alaska and Hawaii to $37 per person in Nevada. The average funding in the United States is $92 per person, unchanged from last year’s edition (2012).” Louisiana, while not the lowest spender, could certainly do more to bring itself up in the rankings and help its people.

We would understand Louisiana’s concern if it had done more to correct these low rankings. The State’s neglect of its citizens is more of a threat to public health than a visiting conference attender who may have tried to improve public health in Africa.

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