More than 100 physicians and other health professionals gathered in Atlanta last month to refine strategies for treating the most vulnerable of homeless populations: those who live unsheltered in the nooks and crannies of the world's urban landscapes.
Taking it to the street
The fifth annual International Street Medicine Symposium drew 130 participants from around the globe. Highlights included a first-ever meeting of street medicine physicians and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention physicians in charge of high-risk populations.
James Withers, the internist widely known for pioneering the field of street medicine through his Operation Safety Net program in Pittsburgh, says the CDC meeting focused almost exclusively on the H1N1 virus. “We had probably an hour and a half discussion where we talked about the risk in terms of infectious disease for homeless people and how that affects the general public.” Withers says the discussion was “groundbreaking.”
The CDC officer at the meeting, Scott Santibañez, says people with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart disease are more likely to experience flu complications that result in being hospitalized and occasionally result in death. “We know that a lot of homeless people have chronic, underlying medical conditions like these. It is vitally important that these individuals get vaccinated against H1N1, so that they don't become ill themselves and potentially spread H1N1 to others if they're in a crowded setting like a shelter,” he says.
The meeting included an opportunity for participants to engage in old-fashioned “street rounding” with Atlanta-based outreach workers and tours of clinics run by St. Joseph's Mercy Care Services—a federally qualified health center.
Isabelle T. Walker is a freelance writer based in Santa Barbara, Calif. She can be reached at [email protected]
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