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Public Health Service Celebrates

The Public Health Service (PHS) celebrated its 200 th anniversary in July with a gathering in Philadelphia, at which all eight PHS operating divisions provided information about their activities and services.

PHS was established on July 16, 1798, by an Act of Congress as a prepaid hospital program for merchant seamen. Since then, PHS has grown from a handful of contract physicians to more than 50,000 health care professionals and a 6,000-member all-officer Commissioned Corps. Together, they account for more than 90 percent of the Department of Health and Human Services’ full-time personnel. PHS expenditures have grown from $75,000 in 1798 to about $25 billion during fiscal year 1998.

PHS often has had to undertake difficult and unpleasant tasks. In the years during World War I, for example, PHS staff members helped prepare rat poison to combat an outbreak of bubonic plague. Another problem during the 19th and early 20th centuries was typhoid fever. PHS assisted in providing inoculations. The fight against the spread of communicable disease has always been one of PHS’s major goals. In the 1950s, mobile immunization clinics were used to reach populations who had difficulty getting immunized.

PHS’s success can be seen in many areas. Age-adjusted death rates are down for leading causes of death such as heart disease, stroke, pneumonia/influenza, diabetes, and liver disease. Almost half of these gains can be attributed to public health measures.

PHS’s role in promoting health and preventing disease will be even more critical in the future as the number of underserved people grows and expenditures for health care remain constrained.

PHS Operating Divisions

National Institutes of Health: A major medical research organization, supporting 30,000 projects nationwide on diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and AIDS.

Food and Drug Administration: Ensures the safety of foods and cosmetics and the safety and efficacy of pharmaceuticals, biological products, and medical devices.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Monitors and prevents disease outbreaks, maintains national health statistics, and supports research.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: Prevents exposure to hazardous substances from waste sites.

Indian Health Service: Provides health services to 1.4 million American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Health Resources and Services Administration: Provides health resources for medically underserved populations and builds the health care workforce.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Works to improve substance abuse prevention, addiction treatment, and mental health services.

Agency for Health Care Policy and Research: Supports crosscutting research on health care systems, health care quality and cost issues, and effectiveness of medical treatments.

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