Public Health Week observed in city, county proclamations

Vasan Ramachandran, MD, dean of The University of Texas School of Public Health San Antonio, discusses the need for strategies to address health inequities post-pandemic.

The University of Texas School of Public Health San Antonio, which begins accepting students in 2024, is a “COVID-19 pandemic baby” coming into its own as the pandemic’s tail end “brings to the fore additional public health challenges such as mental health crises and economic hardships,” the school’s founding dean said Thursday to the San Antonio City Council.

Council members presented Vasan Ramachandran, MD, professor of medicine and population health sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, a proclamation in recognition of Public Health Week April 3-7. The University of Texas School of Public Health San Antonio is a strategic collaboration of the UT Health Science Center and The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).

Vasan S. Ramachandran, MD

“The Health Science Center and UTSA are proud to partner with Metro Health, the city of San Antonio and Bexar County as we seek strategies to collaboratively improve public health in the region, the need for which is laid bare by the pandemic,” Ramachandran said.

Most of the determinants of health lie outside the doctor’s office, he said. The United States has a higher rate of preventable deaths than comparable countries, perhaps because spending on public health and social services is considerably lower in the U.S. “The focus on social determinants, social needs and social services, including in our city, is critical,” he said.

Public health in San Antonio is particularly challenged by economic factors and the segregation of poverty in pockets of San Antonio. “Diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease and obesity cluster in regions that have food deserts and other common drivers of health disparities,” Ramachandran said.

Representing the UT School of Public Health San Antonio at the City Council meeting on April 6, 2023, are, from left, Courtney Peebles, MPH, director, business and research operations; Vasan Ramachandran, MD, founding dean; Monica Palomo-Mendoza, MBA, director, finance and administration; and Deepu Kurian, PhD, associate dean, finance and administration.

“As we learn over and over in public health, death follows poverty like a shadow,” he said. “It is not surprising, therefore, that the gap in life expectancy between the high-hardship ZIP codes and the regular ZIP codes in our city is a staggering 20 years.”

Health disparities breach the principles of social justice because many social factors are beyond the control of the individual, he said.

The University of Texas School of Public Health San Antonio will educate and train public health leaders to augment the region’s existing workforce. A student census of 300-400 is planned within the first five years, with a Master of Public Health degree offered beginning in 2024 and a Doctor of Public Health degree program to be developed jointly with UTSA.

Photo of Hispanic family

The new School of Public Health will focus on solutions for all segments of the region’s population, including Hispanics. “Consider that by 2035, one in four in the U.S. will be Hispanic. By 2060, it will be one in three. In San Antonio today, the population is more than 60% Hispanic. Therefore, Hispanic health is San Antonio’s health, it is our state’s health, and it is critical for national health,” Ramachandran said.

As recovery from the pandemic continues, Ramachandran thanked the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District and Bexar County for their admirable past and present leadership during public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bexar County Commissioners presented Ramachandran a proclamation observing Public Health Week on Tuesday.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents recognized that the region’s persistent disparities in key health outcomes require a robust public health approach. In November 2021, the Regents voted to authorize UT Health San Antonio and UTSA to develop a new public health school. Ramachandran, a noted expert in the epidemiology and risk factors of cardiovascular disease who served as the principal investigator for the first long-term cohort study of its kind, the Framingham Heart Study, under the direction of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, formerly known as the National Heart Institute, assumed duties as the inaugural dean effective Sept. 1, 2022.


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