Gene Matthews, former chief counsel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) and a senior fellow with the North Carolina Institute for Public Health, was interviewed by Elizabeth Majestic with CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion for Preventing Chronic Disease, CDC’s online journal on public health policy, practice, and research (http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/).
The Matthews discussion focuses on the importance and challenges of connecting
with private-sector stakeholders and the strategies necessary to develop private
networks to assist public health in the 21st century.
The interview summarizes the successes of early private-sector partnerships with the public
health community. During the past 50 years, however, public health has become more internally focused and less engaged with both the business community and the political process.
Matthews suggests that in an atmosphere of doing more with less, public health has to face the rigors of accountability
and to think in different ways about strategic partners and how to match purposes
The interview was filmed in November 2008.
Segment 1: The history of public health partnerships with the business
Public health has a long history of working successfully with the business sector. Initial efforts focused on providing basic health services through a partnership with
the Rotary Club and expanded to fighting infectious diseases with a variety of
private-sector partners. In the last 50 years, however, as public health has
increasingly isolated from the private sector, achieving public
health objectives has been more difficult. Two examples of a new type of
business relationship are highlighted from the National Institute of Occupational
Safety and Health: 1) the tripartite agreements that called for the unions,
company leaders, and CDC staff to work together to improve worker safety and 2)
the National Occupational Research Agenda.
Segment 2: Using health threats to build relationships with the business sector
Urgent threats such as those caused by terrorists tend to unite the public health community with all sectors, including the business sector. When these threats arise,
the public and private sectors provide an initial influx of resources. These resources tend to be cyclical,
but they can be sustained by forming relationships that address not only the urgent health threats such as bioterrorism, but also chronic diseases.
Segment 3: New models for partnering with the business sector
Public health needs to develop new partnership models that take into account
modern health problems. By building credibility with
business and community leaders on issues such as preparedness, public health can
gain support for its chronic disease efforts. Initiatives that are considered
desirable by communities, such as those to build recreational facilities, can
help limit obesity. Public health leaders need to find this common ground.
Segment 4: Ethics of partnerships with the private sector
Underlying the discussion of partnerships and the debates over definitions,
motives, and processes are basic questions of ethics. Which partnerships
should be considered? How can their accountability be assured? To help public health professionals develop productive and ethical
public-private partnerships, Matthews highlights
3 strategies that should
serve as the cornerstone for partnership development.
Segment 5: Advice for professionals working to address chronic disease
The economic downturn will increase the demands on public health. The
public health community needs to prepare for the likely budget cuts, report the impact of these cuts on the public’s health,
and expand the range of stakeholders that influence the body politic.
The Department of Agriculture is highlighted as an agency that has met these
challenges by creating relationships with the private sector.
Elizabeth Majestic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4770
Buford Hwy NE, MS K40, Atlanta, GA 30341. Telephone: 770-771-3451. E-mail:
Gene W. Matthews is a senior fellow at the North Carolina Institute for
Public Health, the outreach and service unit of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health. He also holds faculty appointments at the
University of North Carolina School of Public Health and the Georgia State
University College of Law. Since 1999, Mr Matthews has provided leadership in the development of
CDC’s internal Public Health Law Program, an effort
to reach out to the legal community and to public health practitioners. In June 2004, Mr Matthews received the Distinguished Career Award of the
Public Health Law Association “… in recognition of a career devoted to using law
to improve the public’s health.” Mr Matthews is a graduate of the University of
North Carolina School of Law and is a member of the North Carolina Bar.