By Kathy Ko Chin
SAN FRANCISCO (Nov. 17, 2014) — If you have seen a cigarette package in the last 40 years, then you’ve probably noticed the warning label on the side. They all begin with “Surgeon General’s Warning,” and contain information about the risks of smoking. The Surgeon General has long been considered the nation’s leader in public health, the person who manages risks to the public, and understands health for our country. Yet, we haven’t had a Surgeon General for more than a year.
It is difficult to protect our country’s public health, especially during times of health crises, when the top leadership position has been left vacant by Congress for so long.
My organization, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, advocates for the health of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) communities. We work to ensure that our communities achieve the greatest health possible. But, as Surgeon General, as “the nation’s doctor,” Dr. Vivek Murthy can advocate for all communities.
Dr. Murthy is a physician, educator, entrepreneur and respected health leader. He also epitomizes the American Dream. When his parents arrived from India decades ago, they had little to their name in money and possessions, but like so many other immigrants, imagined a better future for their children. This sense of hard work and dedication, along with a commitment to bettering communities, was cultivated in Dr. Murthy at an early age.
Since then, Dr. Murthy has demonstrated that commitment to putting the health of underserved communities first. And as Surgeon General, he would tackle the most pressing health challenges impacting AAs and NHPIs and all communities, including obesity, tobacco related illnesses and reducing stigma around mental health.
One in five Asian American male teens has considered suicide and Asian American young women have some of the highest rates of depression. Fifty years after the Surgeon General’s report on the dangers of smoking, AA and NHPI communities continue to be plagued by the consequences of this habit. Tobacco use increases the risk of stroke, heart disease and cancer, all leading causes of death for AAs and NHPIs. The toll is particularly uneven among Vietnamese and Korean American men, where 1 in 3 smoke.
Despite being impacted by many of these health conditions, AA and NHPI communities are often not included in major health initiatives, leading to misconceptions about who is at risk and solutions that do not take all communities into account. This is why having a Surgeon General that is committed to putting the health and needs of all communities, including AAs and NHPIs, matters.
When he testified in the Senate, Dr. Murthy said “I believe that our nation’s greatest strength has always come from its people. They are and will always be our most valuable resource. Improving the health of our people means strengthening the nation.” It is clear that Dr. Murthy would use his position as Surgeon General to advocate and protect the health of all Americans, raising the profiles of issues and conditions that have historically been left out of the conversation.
Dr. Murthy is backed by the nation’s leading medical and public health groups, but that isn’t enough. He also needs our support to ensure he is confirmed to do the job of protecting our country’s health. Despite his impressive credentials and strong commitment to advancing our nation’s health, Dr. Murthy remains stalled in the Senate, awaiting a vote. If the Senate does not confirm him before the year ends, then the process begins again and our nation will continue to go without a Surgeon General.
As the Senate returns for the remaining days in this Congress, they must act swiftly to confirm Dr. Murthy. He wouldn’t just be our nation’s doctor, he would be our doctor.
Kathy Ko Chin is President & CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, which influences policy, mobilizes communities and strengthens organizations to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AA & NHPI).