Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders has lost little of that trademark candor that so famously put her on the outs with the Clinton administration some 15 years ago.
In an interview conducted at a party held in Denver during the Democratic National Convention, Elders was her same outspoken self. The event was aimed at promoting safe sex and was hosted by Rolling Stone magazine and Trojan Brand Condoms. Elders called for sex education to begin as early as kindergarten and continue through graduation. She also urged healthcare to move from treating the sick to instead keeping individuals healthy from the start.
We have to come to grips with preventable problems, she said, adding that there is a reluctance among Americans to take even the most basic steps toward improving their health, like quitting smoking or monitoring their dietand even less incentive for healthcare professionals to lean on them to do so.
We have a health illiterate society, she added.
Elders, who after a career focused on the practice and policies surrounding public health, in 1993 was appointed as U.S. Surgeon General by then-President Clinton. She was the first African-American to hold the post and only the second woman to reach that rank.
Almost immediately, however, she sparked controversy. In the early 1990s, she called for more lax drug laws and pushed the distribution of condoms and other contraceptives in public schools. In 1994, in answer to a question, she suggested that masturbation could prove an effective means of keeping children from riskier sexual behavior.
Now, the 75-year-old Elders continues to press her message of prevention, especially regarding sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. She also said she is a proponent of universal health coverage, in which everyone from physicians to the everyday citizen shares responsibility. Everyone has to contribute, she said. Doctors cant do it alone.
When asked to compare Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama to a young Bill Clinton, she immediately cited their boundless energy. They both want to get things done, she said.
And would she want to return to a health policy post under a new administration? Oh no, she said. Im too old.
Washington Bureau Chief Matthew DoBias covers Medicare, HHS/CMS, quality improvement, patient safety and healthcare business news in the District of Columbia and Delaware.
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