HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - One of the nation's top health officials is touring Eastern Kentucky this week, discussing the health challenges unique to our region.
Dr. Thomas Frieden is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Frieden came to Eastern Kentucky on a three-day tour of the region as part of a health impact series with Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR.
He and Rep. Hal Rogers stopped by the WYMT studio for a taping of Issues & Answers: The Mountain Edition.
The wide-ranging conversation touched on a number of current health issues.
On the deadly outbreak of ebola in West Africa, Dr. Frieden says Americans should be concerned, but not worried.
"The people who have potential risk of ebola infection are the people who are taking care of patients who are suffering from ebola, particularly in Africa," he said.
Dr. Frieden says the greatest threat to public health in Eastern Kentucky and across the nation remains tobacco use.
"Almost half a million Americans are killed by tobacco each year, and tobacco counts for about a third of all cancers, about a third of all heart attacks."
Frieden talked about what he says is an over-use of antibiotics in this country, which is contributing to antibiotic resistance in treating infectious disease.
"You know in medicine, we talk about the pre-antibiotic era and the antibiotic era," Dr. Frieden said. "Well if we're not careful we're going to be in a post-antibiotic era soon."
Dr. Frieden also touched on the problem of opioid narcotic abuse in Central Appalachia.
"No one could have predicted 20 years ago what a huge problem this would be. We've seen a fourfold increase in the number of opiates prescribed, and exactly parallel to that a fourfold increase in the number of deaths."
For all the health challenges faced by Eastern Kentucky, Dr. Frieden says he is encouraged by efforts like SOAR to affect change in the region.
Rep. Rogers announced a one-point-five million dollar investment to address health disparities in the region.
"We'll try to digest what we are hearing into some programs that we will actually do," Rogers said. "I believe in the old phrase 'plan your work and work your plan.' We're planning our work here, and then we'll finally come up with those concrete things we're going to ask people to work on."
Rogers says about one million dollars will go toward drug overdose prevention at UK, while one half million will go toward Morehead State's Appalachian Rural Dental Program.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came to Hazard to listen and to help announce two public health initiatives.
Tom Frieden also came to listen.
"One thing that's really important is to get information and then to share that widely," said Frieden.
The first initiative was for the Appalachian Cancer Navigation project, which connects people with patient navigators, who help to direct them to appropriate cancer care.
The second initiative announced was the Community Leadership Institute of Kentucky, or CLIK.
The University of Kentucky is set to administer that program.
It is designed to help leaders develop their skills, according to a release from the Shaping Our Appalachian Region Initiative.
"We believe that they can come up with creative solutions that work best in their communities," said UK President Eli Capilouto.
Applications are available at the link attached to this story.
A panel made up of local officials also discussed the top ten health challenges facing the region, as defined by SOAR's Health working group.
10. Physical Education/Health Education
9. Oral Health
8. Transportation and Access to Care
7. Adverse Childhood Experiences
6. A Clearinghouse for things going on in the region
5. Wellness Initiatives
4. Substance Abuse
3. Smoke Free Initiatives
1 (tie). Environmental Issues
1 (tie). Coordinated School Health