Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Virtual Supermarket Program Celebrates Successes

One of the reasons I started this blog was to use this space to mark the achievements of Baltimore City Health Department programs.  Last night, Laura Fox, Coordinator of BCHD’s Virtual Supermarket Program, joined Dr. Andres Alonso, the board of education, George Washington Elementary principal Amanda Rice, and students in celebrating the expansion of the VSP to George Washington Elementary School as another step towards eliminating Baltimore’s “food deserts.”

Food deserts are areas where residents have little or no options for buying healthy foods.  Oftentimes families in these areas have to travel over a mile to access healthy and affordable foods.  George Washington Elementary is located in a food desert.

It has been a wonderful partnership with George Washington Elementary and the Y of Central Maryland as the school community resource partner. We see schools as ideal centers to model healthy behaviors.  We hope that the success at George Washington Elementary will eventually lead us to expand to other Baltimore public schools located in food deserts throughout the city.

Last night was not the Virtual Supermarket’s only cause for celebration. Famed food author and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman mentioned the VSP in a recent post about ways cities can increase access to healthy foods. I am proud that Baltimore’s program is quickly becoming a national model for innovative ways to address the critical problem of food access.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Baltimore Celebrates National Public Health Week

This week, communities across the country are joining together for National Public Health Week, a time dedicated to recognizing the contributions of public health and highlighting issues of importance to improving health.  During the week, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages Marylanders to learn how to prevent injuries in recognition of this year’s theme, “Safety is NO Accident: Live Injury-Free.” Injuries are one of the most serious and expensive public health problems in Maryland, and unlike other leading causes of death, injury is a risk for all age groups and often can be prevented. The Baltimore Sun points out that simple steps like “using seatbelts on every trip, not using cell phones while driving and wearing a bike helmet” can go a long way toward injury prevention.

You can also work toward a safer, healthier Baltimore by attending one of the following health fairs taking place across the city this year:

Loyola University - April 7, 2011 - 11:00AM - 2:00PM
4501 Charles Street
For additional information, contact Linda Januszkiewicz at 410-617-5055 or

Morgan State University - April 8, 2011 - 12:00PM - 4:00PM
1700 E. Coldspring Lane (Hurt Gymnasium)
For additional information, contact Gillian Silver at 443-885-4146 or
Elev8 Baltimore(EBDI) @ East Baltimore Community School - April 9th from 11:00AM - 3:00PM
110 N. Wolfe Street @ Chase Street
For additional information, contact Adriann Anderson at443-703-3671 or

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pushing the envelope

April is STI Awareness month and this year’s emphasis is on the importance of getting young people tested. Focusing efforts on youth and young adults is important because they are more likely to engage in high risk sexual behavior. Additionally, the consequences to them of untreated STI’s can have long lasting effects such as infertility. 

Testing and treating individuals for STI’s in the age of the internet has become a hybrid of good old-fashioned public health practice and digital sleuthing.

For some people, the internet has become a means for arranging shorter term, often anonymous and often unsafe sexual encounters. This practice has added a new and challenging obstacle to our work of intervening in the spread of sexually transmitted infections. Everyday, public health staff in Baltimore and throughout the country interview people diagnosed with HIV, syphilis, or other STIs to provide appropriate education about STIs and to ensure that the person has medical care. We also reach out to their sex partners so they can get appropriate and timely medical care.

Until recently, a typical scenario when public health staff asked the patient about his or her sex partner(s) would be “I met him/her on the internet. We agreed that we would meet at an agreed to location in 45 minutes.” When asked how that person can be contacted, the patient typically says “I only know his/her screen name: ‘#1hotbodi’”. Prior to this month, that was typically the end of the public health intervention.

Now, however, the Baltimore City Health Department and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Infectious Disease and Environmental Health Administration are implementing internet partner services (IPS) to intervene in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Working with a nationally recognized consultant and three of the most heavily utilized “hook-up” sites in Baltimore and Maryland, we’ve developed a program to maximize the number of sexual partners we treat. The joint effort is critical because oftentimes persons like those described above have no idea where the person they meet lives. Close coordination between the city, the state, the counties and even other states is essential to reducing our rates of STI’s and HIV.

The program has been in effect four weeks and already we’ve been able to reach people exposed to an STI or HIV from places as far away as New York and are enthusiastic about the new program’s potential to intervene in the spread of disease.