November 17, 2011

PSR continued its strong presence at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) annual meeting, held October 29-November 2nd in Washington, D.C.  For the last 15 years, Bob Gould, Patrice Sutton and other core members of the APHA Peace Caucus have collaborated with past APHA Presidents Drs. Barry Levy and Victor Sidel in developing well-attended sessions. These sessions correspond to the variety of significant public health issues covered within the various editions of War and Public Health, Terrorism and Public Health (second edition just published!), and Social Injustice and Public Health that Drs. Levy and Sidel have co-edited for Oxford University Press.  Dr. Gould presented on “Environmental and public health impacts of nuclear power” on the same panel with Dr. Andrew Kanter, president-elect of national PSR, who spoke on “Challenges of evacuating impacted populations in the event of nuclear reactor emergencies.” Both Dr. Gould and Dr. Kanter’s talks addressed the health impacts of nuclear power, with reference to lessons learned from the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. Dr. Gould and Ms. Sutton co-presented on “Nuclear Weapons and Public Health: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Headed?,” part  of the panel “War, Terrorism and Public Health.” Their talk covered the work of the Peace Caucus since its inception in 1985, in developing numerous anti-nuclear weapons and anti-war policies adopted by APHA. The presentation also highlighted the 1986 demonstration held at the time of the APHA meeting in Las Vegas, in which over 500 APHA members and conference attendees protested at the Nevada Test Site in support of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as a step towards the abolition of nuclear weapons. Approximately 130 protesters participated in non-violent civil disobedience. Among those arrested for civil disobedience at the 1986 protest were Drs. Robert Gould and Tom Hall of SF Bay Area PSR. In their presentation, Dr. Gould and Ms. Sutton emphasized how continued pressure for a comprehensive nuclear test ban is imperative today, to push President Obama to realize his stated aim of a “world without nuclear weapons.”

Ms. Sutton presided, and Dr. Gould served as one of the co-facilitators, for the roundtable “Advancing APHA’s 2009 Policy `The Role of Public Health Practitioners, Academics, and Advocates in Relation to Armed Conflict and War.’” In 2009, the Peace Caucus collaborated with other Sections in APHA to develop a comprehensive policy pulling together disparate elements that address war as a significant public health issue. These elements including direct impacts, such as deaths and injuries to soldiers and civilians, and creation of refugees; and more “indirect” impacts, such as environmental issues related to preparing for and conducting war.  The goal of the roundtable session was to discuss how to bring an understanding of war as a public health issue to other APHA Sections, to encourage them to hold panel presentations on this issue, and to support participants in working with public health schools in their communities to integrate this issue into the curriculum. Dr. Gould said that Shelly White’s earlier talk on the “War, Terrorism and Public Health” panel had great relevance to the roundtable. Ms. White presented original research in which she looked at the top 20 schools of public health in the country: out of 6,000 courses, only a handful addressed war in the curriculum, and none dealt with the impacts of military spending on public health.

Dr. Gould said the highlight of the conference for him and many others was a Special Session honoring Dr. Jack Geiger, co-founder of PSR: “This session was held to celebrate Dr. Geiger’s work, which has been devoted to protecting and promoting health by combating poverty and racism, protecting human rights, and preventing war. There was an outpouring of appreciation by people who’d been touched by Jack. It was extraordinarily moving. Jack talked at the end and included incisive remarks about the negative impacts of the war on terror on civil liberties and human rights.” Click here for more information about the Special Session for Dr. Geiger.