Sami Jarrah, MPH

Jeffrey Hom, MD, MPH

This is the first of a series of “Fresh Perspectives” posts on the APHA website, presented by the de Beaumont Foundation. These posts, leading up to the 2019 APHA Annual Meeting & Expo in Philadelphia on Nov. 2-6, feature perspectives from some of the inaugural 40 Under 40 in Public Health, announced by de Beaumont in May. Guest authors Sami Jarrah, MPH, and Jeffrey Hom, MD, MPH, are with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Philadelphia is the nation’s sixth largest city. It is the home of Rocky Balboa, Gritty the NHL mascot, Boyz II Men, Grace Kelley, Questlove and the United States Constitution. We’ve got cheesesteaks and murals, bustling neighborhoods and a diverse population. Philadelphia is also the proud host of this year’s APHA Annual Meeting and Expo, which will be held Nov. 2-6.

In addition to being rich in history, museums and sports, Philadelphia is also a leader in public health. Our Board of Health is among the oldest in the country: its founding members included Benjamin Rush, an eminent physician and cosigner of the Declaration of Independence. Today the Philadelphia Department of Public Health strives to “protect and promote the health of all Philadelphians and to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable.”

In pursuit of this mission and like many APHA attendee organizations, our work is broad and diverse. Philadelphia’s health department focuses on a range of public health issues, many of which are common in urban areas yet exacerbated by deep and persistent disparities in wealth, income and access to care.

Some of Philadelphia’s health challenges include high rates of chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity and asthma; tobacco use; gun violence; and drug overdoses. While these contribute to the morbidity and mortality experienced by many Philadelphians, they have also prompted new approaches, innovative policies and citywide collaborations to address them:

Philadelphia was the first large U.S. city to pass a sugar-sweetened beverage tax in 2016. The tax has generated tens of millions of dollars, which Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney and the Philadelphia City Council have wisely invested in refurbishing derelict parks and recreation centers, providing universal pre-K and funding community school programs.

Public health departments cannot address complex health issues alone. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health benefits from a diverse network of partners across the city, from other city departments to academic health systems to social service organizations, all of whom work to ensure that efforts are coordinated, grounded in evidence and, importantly, accessible to all Philadelphians.

We hope you will join us at APHA in November both to learn and network, but also to experience all that Philadelphia has to offer. We join you in working toward APHA’s vision of “creating the healthiest nation.” See you in Philly!

Sami Jarrah, MPH, is the chief operating officer of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, and Jeffrey Hom, MD, MPH, is a policy advisor at the department. Both were named to the de Beaumont Foundation’s inaugural list of 40 Under 40 in Public Health in May 2019. 

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