Vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, science-based . . .

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Whether banned or simply avoided, physicians, scientists, policy makers and medical writers say dodging words leads to inaccurate discussion of public and global health needs  . . .

How do you discuss the urgency of preventing the most devastating impacts of Zika virus without using the word fetus? How do you focus efforts to control the HIV pandemic without alluding to those bearing the most disproportionate burdens of infection and illness, including transgender people? Can you target public health responses to reach those at greatest risk or exposure to any disease — whether children, health workers, migrants or city dwellers without acknowledging that circumstances make some populations more vulnerable than others? And without acknowledging that diversity among people requires diversity in interventions? Wouldn’t investments in domestic and global public health that are not science-based, or evidence-based be a bit of a gamble? And if age or disability doesn’t entitle one to supported access to health and social services, how certain can we be certain that essential public health measures are reaching everyone who needs them?

These are among questions raised following a Friday night report in the Washington Post that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the world’s premier public health agency,  had disseminated a list of words to be banned from budget documents. CDC head Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald responded to the report, and the ensuing alarm and t-shirt sales with an email to colleagues and a string of tweets, beginning “I want to assure you there are no banned words at CDC.”  She included a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services saying that “The assertion that HHS has ‘banned words’ is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget process.” The statement didn’t clarify the discussion that had been mischaracterized, or the origins of the word list, but STAT writer Helen Branswell interviewed sources who shed some light here.

Whether guidance or censorship, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the HIV Medicine Association, and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society speak to their concerns about limiting or replacing words describing public health issues here.

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