Group directs Attention to Public Health Needs

The Public Health Advocacy Institute plans to raise awareness of public health issues in law schools, courts, regulatory agencies and legislatures.

A group of faculty members from two Boston universities has announced the creation of a new organization, the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI), to raise awareness of public health issues in law schools, courts, regulatory agencies and legislatures.

The announcement of the formation of PHAI was made to coincide with the opening of National Public Health Week, which until April 7. The non-profit educational and research group is based in Boston. Its organizers are faculty members of the Northeastern University School of Law and the Tufts University School of Medicine.

"Our population's health is a national asset," said Anthony Robbins, MD, who is PHAI's chair and a former director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. "National Public Health Week underscores the critical need to protect that asset. Yet without the full participation of the legal system in meeting that need, we will fall short in ridding the environment of health and safety hazards. The law and lawyers should be giving at least as much attention to the public health impact of their work as to the economic results."

PHAI's initial projects are directed at what Robbins calls "a strategic alliance of lawyers and public health professionals." The projects concentrate on four areas:

  • Developing and testing teaching materials that introduce public health concepts and disciplines to law school courses (Public Health Literacy project);
  • Analyzing the public health damage caused by court-protected secrecy of health hazard information, and crafting strategies for reducing that damage (Secrecy Countermeasures project);
  • Creating archival systems for organizing health hazard information and making it widely accessible to law and public health practitioners (Public Health Archives in the Law project);
  • Making the case for public health before courts, regulatory agencies and legislatures in pivotal proceedings concerned with widespread health hazards (Intervening for Public Health project).

A grant from the Bauman Foundation in Washington, D.C., was used to organize PHAI, which will seek support for its specific projects from appropriate funding sources, according to Robbins.

"We intend to stay small, flexible and highly responsive to opportunities for making important improvements in the way the law sees and acts on public health issues," he says. "Without an appreciation within the legal community of how critically its work affects public health, we will remain underachievers in eliminating health hazards."

edited by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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