During the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noticed a glitch in the Tennessee public health system.
Its network was limited, and the information it provided was out-of-date.
“The CDC recognized that, ‘OK, this needs to be updated so everyone will be prepared for the next crisis or emergency,’” said Dr. Amir Alakaam, associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and director of its Master of Public Health (MPH) program.
To help ensure that goal is realized, the master’s program recently received a $332,500 grant from the Tennessee Department of Public Health for the project titled, “Developing a Curriculum for Public Health Workforces in Tennessee,” which will study the issue and develop ways to improve the state’s information-delivery system.
The public health curriculum developed through this project will be disseminated to health professionals and providers across the state.
Alakaam said it’s the first significant grant obtained by the MPH program since it began in 2018.
“That’s what I like about this grant,” said Alakaam, who came to UTC in 2019. “It’s not just the high amount of money; it’s also great because it will recognize the important role that our MPH program plays in the state of Tennessee.”
Along with Alakaam, the research team will include two graduate students in the MPH program.
The ultimate goals of the project are to develop a list of topics that cover public health issues found statewide and collect data on those topics as the basis for training materials to address the problems.
“Our program is very unique because we have two concentrations; we have chronic disease prevention and control, and we have nutrition and dietetics,” said Alakaam, a member of such professional groups as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Public Health Association.
“We will be developing a set of training materials and modules on public health and nutrition that support public health professionals continuing education and development, as well as integrate evidence-based health interventions into practice that will be distributed through the Tennessee Department of Health.”
Among the topics to be covered in the training materials are:
- Chronic diseases and obesity management
- Principles of the science of nutrition
- Dietary risk factors and lifestyle
- Nutrition needs during opioid use and recovery
- Policies and practices related to breastfeeding in the U.S.
- Food insecurity
He cited one of the project’s objectives.
“Providing up-to-date training on chronic disease management to local public health providers will advance public health providers and health agency’s performance,” he said, “which will impact positively the quality of health in the community.”
Alakaam, who recently was selected as president of the Chattanooga Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said a public health program—to be truly effective—must collaborate with community partners such as county health departments, school systems and religious organizations.
“This is something really related to the South; however, you see resistance in any community intervention,” he said. “So the key is to go against that by involving the community partners.”
To battle such medical problems as chronic disease, obesity and dietary risks, receiving information from someone in the community is helpful, Alakaam said.
“They hear someone from the church or someone from the school talk about nutritional health, and it can start the change.”