'Wicked' Challenge Highlights UAB School of Public Health's NPHW

National Public Health Week activities are taking place across the country this week. At UAB, teams in a "Wicked Problem" competition are tasked with solving a very real challenge for the local health department.

Schools of public health across the country are celebrating National Public Health Week in various ways, such as The University of Iowa College of Public Health's April 5 legislative breakfast at the State Capitol in Des Moines to showcase current projects and raise awareness of public health among Iowa legislators. The annual UI Health Sciences Day at the Capitol then follows.

Member schools of the Association of Schools of Public Health are located from coast to coast, and in Mexico and Puerto Rico. Two associate member schools are in France and Canada.

The NPHW activities of the UAB School of Public Health for the first time include a "Wicked Problem" case competition, so named because it encourages creative, interdisciplinary thinking to solve highly complex problems. Four teams of 4-7 members each are competing to devise the best strategy solving a real public health scenario –- specifically, a syphilis epidemic in Jefferson County, Ala., which includes Birmingham. The school provided a 30-page document outlining the scenario; contestants could begin work around noon April 2 and were told to prepare their strategies for presentation at 11 a.m. April 5 to a team of judges. One of the judges is Jim Alosi, who was STD program manager for the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH) when he retired in 2011 after 33 years with the department, according to the document.

It suggested that the contestants consider which population their intervention would target, what budgetary changes they would propose, the stakeholders and constituencies necessary to ensure success, plans for ensuring long-term sustainability, and also how to address public awareness, given the difficulties encountered with syphilis control programs in the county in the past.

The scenario is based on what's really happening in Jefferson County, where the rate of primary and secondary syphilis in 2010 was 14.0 per 100,000 population -– 3.5 times higher than the 3.9 per 100,000 rate for the United States as a whole. In addition, Jefferson County filed a Chapter 9 bankruptcy in November 2011, the largest U.S. municipal bankruptcy ever, after an agreement to refinance $3.1 billion in sewer bonds collapsed. The Jefferson County Commission voted March 28 not to make $15,391,753 in principal and interest payments due April 1, 2012, on general obligation warrants issued in 2001, 2003, and 2004. The scenario says budget cuts have affected all departments, including JCDH.

There are cash prizes of $1,500, $1,000, and $500 respectively for the teams finishing first, second, and third.

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