Students Prep America is a grassroots advocacy group whose mission is to increase knowledge about public health threats. SPA seeks to effect a change in the perception on two levels: by increasing awareness on the ground, and by advocating to the top for a more comprehensive focus on how to keep people healthy.
Illnesses are a given. Pandemics are inevitable. Yet most, especially the young and healthy, do not consider these public health events to be a threat to their livelihood. Seasonal influenza and common colds desensitize individuals to the notion of being sick, to the point that it is inconceivable that there could be an aquired disease that is debilitating or, worse, fatal. This attitude is stronger in modernized countries with sophisticated medicine where the population assumes that there is a medical intervention for any sickness. Having no frame of reference for such an event leads to the assumption that something of that magnitude cannot happen.
There is no worse assumption. On the superficial level, one cannot always rely on authorities to handle situations effectively. The world witnessed government mismanagement following Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans. American citizens who had expected some form of assistance from the government did not receive it, whether in the form of rescue immediately following the disaster or in the form of relief weeks and months after. Some still have not returned to their lives.
Though the pandemic has thus far claimed relatively few lives, government officials warn that the United States should prepare for a more severe phase in the fall.()
Likewise, one cannot rely on supplies to be available to everyone in the event of a large-scale public health emergency. Medicines and other necessary interventions will quickly be exhausted. Prescription medicines and over-the- counter drugs alike will be in high demand due to the surge in sick people. Therapies that are commonplace will be unavailable.
If sickness is severe, we currently are unprepared to cope with an event of even moderate severity. Government surveys have shown that American hospitals have very limited surge capacity for medical crises. One such study found that more than half of the emergency rooms in major American cities are already operating over capacity, "meaning they have no available treatment space in the emergency room to accommodate new patients."(7) Further, current hospital emergency plans call for existing staff to take on additional responsibilities during disasters. There is already a nationwide nursing shortage predicted to last through 2016.(8) An overextended healthcare workforce may need to perform extra duties during a major public health emergency, and would quickly fall victim to fatigue, illness, and eventually absenteeism. The large increase in severe cases along with frightened citizens known as the "worried well" could easily overwhelm our fragile medical system. If hospitals fail to meet the increased demand for care during a pandemic, then Americans will face this fatal threat without the advantages of modern medicine and technology.
The dangers of a pandemic are not limited to illness alone. Many workers may stay home due to illness, caring for sick relatives, or fear of contracting a deadly virus. Extended global worker absenteeism could create shortages in every sector, including food and energy. Additionally, critical infrastructure may suffer from supply and worker shortages, affecting our police, firefighters, medical personnel, electrical workers, truck drivers--every industry across the boards. The economic and social implications in such a crisis cannot be overstated.
We recently experienced a pandemic as the 2009 (A)H1N1 influenza virus touched nearly every country in the world. Thankfully, it was not as bad as it could have been. However, this is no reason to dilute the potential of a more infectious agent spreading in a similar way. It has happened before, and will inevitably happen again. The worst assumption to make is that we as a society are already able to handle whatever may come.
SPA hopes to raise the public's awareness about these kinds of dangers, but more importantly to educate the public about what to do prior to something happening. There are many simple steps that anyone can take to put themselves in a better position during a public health crisis. These are steps like having extra supplies of food and water on hand, having a practiced plan with your family and friends, and staying informed about what is out there. Interventions as simple as washing hands often and covering coughs and sneezes can make a world of difference. Take a look at the "How Can I Prepare" page to find out more.
One of the hallmarks of effective preparedness is utilizing help from the bottom-up. SPA empowers individuals to go into their communities and spread awareness about these simple interventions. Not only is this a force multiplier, it reaches far further into communities than can be done by a small group of people. SPA uses existing infrastructure--community groups, advocacy organizations, special interest groups, and concerned individuals--to creatively and effectively target as many people as possible.
Any individual can effect change. Preparedness is not an all-or-none phenomenon: it exists on a sliding scale that asks [i]how[/i] prepared is the individual. Taking one step forward is positive, being mindful of the threat. Prepare yourself. Go a little further and help prepare your family and friends, those closest to you who you care about and wouldn't want to see suffer. Help prepare your community and band together to weather any storm. Prepare the nation to show just how strong and resilient we are as a people. We are all in this together.
World Health Organization, “World Now At The Start of 2009 Influenza Pandemic,”, June 11, 2009
ABC News “White House Warns of Massive Swine Flu Spread,” August 5, 2009,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Telebriefing on Investigation of Human Cases of Novel Influenza A (H1N1),” June 26, 2009
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Obama Administration Call on Nation to Begin Planning and Preparing for Fall Flu Season & the New H1N1 Virus”
Flu.gov, “Pandemics and Pandemic Threats since 1900”
Taubenberger, J; Morens D (2006). "1918 Influenza: The Mother of All Pandemics"
Emerging Infectious Diseases 12(1):15–22.PMID 16494711
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, “Hospital Emergency Surge Capacity: Not Ready For The Predictable Surprise,” May 2008
Kaiser Family Foundation Daily Health Policy Report, “Nursing Shortage Expected To Grow Annually Through 2016, According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,” January 6, 2009
Reuters, “Will Two Flus Mix in Indonesia? Experts Worry,” June 29, 2009
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