Public Health Policy in Practice (Special Topics)

Spring 2021
Lauren Silver
PUBP 4813
“Public health policies saved your life today and you didn’t even know it.” This is how health officials describe public health’s most successful policies, i.e., policies that prevent disease, disability, and death. In turn, public health policymakers, practitioners, and researchers say that public health suffers from a “crisis of invisibility”—ironically, the more successful the overall public health system is at keeping us well, the more we tend to overlook it. In the U.S., many health policymakers and the general public will look back on 2020 as the year the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to public health’s invisibility crisis. Despite record-setting vaccine development and successful mitigation efforts in some communities (such as Georgia Tech’s homegrown testing and contact tracing program), public health policy in the U.S. now is visible to many if only for failing to mount a consistent, science-based, and coordinated response to the pandemic. This course is not about the COVID-19 pandemic, per se, but it will use as a backdrop the unprecedented clash of science and politics for exploring how the development, implementation, and success of health policies are shaped by factors that extend well beyond what the science and data suggest are “evidence-based” policy approaches. Throughout the semester, we’ll rely mostly on contemporary examples to examine how science, social norms and values, political culture and ideology, and public and private institutions interact to create effective public health policies.
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