ASTHO at 75: Celebrating the Past and Preparing for the Future

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On March 23, 1942, the organization we know today as ASTHO, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, was officially “born.” Well before 1942, however, state and territorial health officials convened to network, discuss public health priorities, exchange information, and advocate for the work of governmental public health. Historical reports show that as early as 1879, the individuals serving as leaders of state boards of health—who we now refer to as state and territorial health officers (S/THOs)—first met in Washington to discuss efforts to control the spread of cholera in the Mississippi Valley. While both the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the American Medical Association offered to form new sections within their memberships to convene and support these state leaders, the S/THOs at the time believed that their “sanitary and other public health laws and regulations was a responsibility that merited and could be best served through an autonomous organization.”1 Of course a great deal has changed over the last 75 years, but the original purpose of ASTHO has remained constant: to convene S/THOs nationwide and educate members on current issues, discuss state and territorial public health priorities, address urgent health needs, and advocate for continued support for the governmental public health enterprise. The history of ASTHO authored by Nancy Maddox (pages 524–530) in this Special Section provides an excellent overview of ASTHO's past with a keen eye toward its future.
As De Tocqueville notes in the aforementioned quotation, a unique feature of American democracy is the formation of voluntary associations created to promote shared values, goals, and policy agendas. In this regard, ASTHO is no different from the thousands of other trade associations and professional societies that cover the vast array of interests on behalf of their various constituencies in our nation's capital. But ASTHO is unique: there is no other national association that represents and convenes the leadership of S/THOs and is concerned with the wide variety of issues and policies that directly impact state and territorial health agencies. ASTHO's core mission is future-focused and dynamic: ASTHO exists to “transform public health within states and territories to help members dramatically improve health and wellness.”2 To accomplish its mission, ASTHO supports the leadership and professional development of S/THOs and their executive teams, it advocates for the work of member agencies, and it collaborates funding partners and public health stakeholders to build the capacity of state and territorial health agencies.
Over the last 20 years, ASTHO's capacity-building work has led to the development of a substantial body of technical assistance and training support for state and territorial health agencies in the many programmatic and operational areas of agency performance. Today, ASTHO employs a professional staff of more than 130 public health professionals, manages an annual budget of $28 million, is active in all 59 states, territories, and Pacific Freely Associated States, and relies on countless hours of volunteer leadership and subject matter expertise of current health officers, ASTHO “alumni,” senior deputies, and affiliated public health organizations and associations to carry out its work.
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