Parekh's View from D.C.

Parekh's View from D.C.

Anand Parekh, MD, MPH '02, is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health (Science and Medicine) for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He answers questions about the nation's public health agenda, the challenges of chronic-disease management, and why Washington, D.C., inspires him.

What are the country's top public health priorities?

Certainly right now the implementation of health reform is first and foremost in the minds of many, particularly to address key public health priorities such as the public health and health care workforce, public health infrastructure, and the aging population. But if you put me on the spot, and I had to give the country's top public health priority, I would say it's to focus on prevention and wellness, empowering the public through health education and by incentivizing them to choose healthier lifestyles, seek higher-value care, and ensure that individuals participate in efforts to make their own communities healthier.

What would you most like to accomplish in the next 10 years?

One of the things I'm trying to do is fundamentally change how chronic illness is addressed in this country, moving away from a silo-driven, single-chronic-disease-management approach—where you have diabetes here, and you have dementia there, and you have heart disease in the middle—to what I call a multiple-chronic-disease approach. A majority of people who have chronic disease have other concurrent conditions, and we can better address those individual chronic conditions if we can look at the patient holistically. I would love to help push the country in making what I believe is a transformational change.

What's best about being in the nation's capital?

I used to walk from home to work, and as you cross the national mall, you see the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol, you see the Washington Monument, and you're sort of awestruck in terms of everyone who came before us, and what they accomplished and sacrificed in working for the public good. At the same time, what I see less often, and what is daunting but motivational as well, is that Washington, D.C., is also a city with lots of challenges. The epidemic of HIV/AIDS, the epidemic of obesity, many of the challenges of this country—particularly in urban areas—are right here in the city that I come to every single day to work. So even though it's inspiring to be here in Washington, you just have to go a few blocks to realize that many of the changes we're trying to push forward for the country need to occur right here.

How has your SPH education contributed to your career?

It allowed me to understand the breadth of our health care and public health systems, and where these systems interact. It allowed me to understand the important concept of the social determinants of health—such as education, economics, culture, environment, genetics. Understanding those is important to improving health outcomes. It allowed me to understand how to improve quality in this country. Most of all, my SPH experience was shaped by mentors and colleagues that I had and still have, including Ken Warner as dean. <

Anand Parekh is a member of the UM SPH Alumni Society Board of Governors.