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One of the most pressing public health issues of our times, has been the scourge of HIV/AIDS. The disease – which began to gain notoriety and attention throughout the 1980’s – has crippled the lives of many Americans, most often bringing unwelcome stigmas and lifelong medication treatments.

A particular class I took in college (as a matter of fact, it was the class that brought me from engineering to the public health world), was focused on disease prevention. Among diseases like diabetes and tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS was usually at the top of the list of diseases that needed focused attention to cure/eradicate. Now that we are in the 2000s and in an age of advanced communication, many of the details related to the disease itself – as well as cutting edge research working toward a cure – can be effectively disseminated to the lay audience. For far too long, the darker side of word of mouth communication allowed for incorrect insight into the world of those living with the disease. Now we can change that…

A good example of technology (more specifically the social web) being used to inform the public is the recently launched AIDS.gov blog. AIDS. gov is the official website of the Department of Health and Human Services‘ communication on the HIV/AIDS issue. Their willingness to delve into the social media aspect of communication should be applauded in itself. This is what I’m talking about when I mention thoughts on how social technology can help the health world. Health is about people. How people live, eat and interact…and also learn. The site does a great job of introducing people to the disease and the blog seems to facilitate a way for people to interact with how the government is handling the issue.

This is of course a vulnerable position as there is always the tendency for the public to not always trust government leadership. This is a great step in the right direction. The HIV/AIDS dilemma is a big one – a global one. And from my point of view, problems can be solved faster by having more people truly understand what is at stake.

Bottom line is, as we continue to become more connected, more vocal about what is going on in our lives, it’s important to not only become knowledgeable about these issues but also to provide feedback regarding solutions. Especially in the realm of health – it’s not about what the government can provide, it’s not about a “professional” tackling the problem for us. Our better health future relies on you – it relies on me – to make forward progress. Get educated about health issues that matter to you…and then give back.

Remember when computers were really clunky objects that you only knew existed in your classroom (5th grade for me)? I mean, I knew at that young age that I wanted to get involved somehow with technology. Ah yes…I remember now…hours upon hours of time spent playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and and [insert inappropriately excited voice here] the original Space Quest series! Oh, oh, but we CERTAINLY cannot leave out one of the greatest early games of all time….OREGON TRAIL!! That’s right folks…Aunt Martha just got dysentery after drinking river water. Ah yes, good times.

Well fortunately for us, time has zoomed by and we now have great personal computers that have gone into our homes and then everywhere we go – the undisputed mobile technology culture is in full swing! Which brings me to the recent news of a Taiwanese computer company that just produced their Eee PC. The Eee PC is small in dimension and just looking at it makes you wonder if it’s a toy or actual computing device!

asus-eee-pc-005-550x413.jpgBut for any practical purposes, this is a great step forward for devices that can be set up in the classroom (came back full circle!). From the CNET site where I saw the news, one of the pictures shows a group of young students huddled around an area where there are a few of these Eee PC. Is it a coincidence that young kids are drawn to this? With computing technology getting smaller and smaller, it becomes an automatic draw to children and teens. Portability is the theme of today. Who has time to sit at home in order to communicate or send emails? I rather send that when I’m shopping at Target…err, Banana Republic.

From CNET:

At the U.S. launch of the Eee PC, plenty of school children were on hand to test out the tiny kid-friendly laptop. The Linux-based computer has an entirely graphical interface, a short boot-up time, a solid-state drive, and a variety of educational applications and games intended to grab kids’ attention.

Bottom line is, with these technologies coming out that allow for internet access and other computing abilities in such a compact manner – how can this translate into benefits for the public health and education world? Portability should be the best thing going for health education! Think about it, one of the main issues with health education is getting into places that need help the most and just spreading the word – with portable devices, we can show people and carry on presentations on the fly! The possibilities are becoming even more endless.

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Well after much ballyhoo and hard work, I am VERY proud to say that the University of Maryland at College Park, my alma mater, has opened their very own School of Public Health! You can read more about the School here. This is especially cool since I graduated from the former College of Health and Human Performance, 2 years ago. According to President Mote:

“The new School of Public Health will be built on the considerable strengths of its predecessor, the College of Health and Human Performance, with a core mission of translating public health research and learning into healthy public policy. “No other public research university in the region has an accredited school of public health whose mission is focused on research and the applications of knowledge that directly benefits citizens in that area.”

The faculty at the school were exceptionally encouraging and a necessary component to my interest in health education, promotion and the field of public health. I can’t wait to see what great things the School will accomplish in the coming years. This is perfect timing as the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the Society of Public Health Education (SOPHE) are having their annual meetings in Washington DC in November. I’m sure they’ll find a way to promote that.

The Dean of the School, Dr. Bob Gold, is one of the smartest people I’ve met in the public health arena. He’s pretty cool because he is definitely one of those people who want to merge health education and technology together. Hopefully I’ll get to catch up with him soon! Here’s a picture of us at the 2004 SOPHE conference in DC (click to enlarge).

Me and Dr. Gold @ 2004 SOPHE Conference in DC

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