Case Studies

Vaccination ranks as the single most important public health achievement of the 20th century.  In the industrialized world, diphtheria, measles, and whooping cough – once causes of great fear, suffering, and death – are, for the most part, rare occurrences that minimally impact families and communities. Other scourges of the past, killers of millions, have largely been eliminated through polio and smallpox vaccines.

But in the developing world, some 1.4 million children still die each year of vaccine-preventable diseases. Where they live, medical care is extremely limited. Getting booster shots at periodic intervals means traveling great distances, often on foot. For these reasons and many more, vaccination coverage around the world is strikingly deficient.

But new funding and energy is being directed to close this immunization gap. Burness has campaigned on behalf of immunization, starting with our work in the early 1990s with the Children'...

America is suffering from an obesity epidemic. 

Just a few years ago, that statement would have raised eyebrows. But recently, obesity has taken center stage in discussions about public health. In 2004, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that poor diet and physical inactivity were quickly gaining on tobacco as the leading causes of preventable death in the United States. Since then, policymakers, researchers and consumers have begun to investigate and confront America’s obesity epidemic.

Even prior to the CDC's 2004 announcement, researchers had begun exploring the role that our living environments play in our levels of physical activity -- and, by extension, our chances of being obese or overweight. Perhaps the most seminal paper on this topic was released in August 2003, just prior to what continues to be a period of heightened awareness and intense activity around obesity.

“Relationship...

Doctors often refer to people who have never been infected with a malaria parasite as “malaria naïve.” That also would be an apt term for the world in general in 2001 when Burness Communications began our partnership with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI).

In terms of global awareness of this devastating disease, much of the world was indeed malaria naïve. Incredible as it may seem, many people, particularly in wealthy countries, were oblivious to malaria’s impact in sub-Saharan Africa, where each year a mere mosquito bite in the night is tantamount to a death sentence for an astonishing one million children. So there was little chance that the public in general or policymakers in particular understood the need for a malaria vaccine.

In the early days of our work with MVI, Burness sought to convey to policymakers through elite media coverage the basic facts about malaria and the need for a vaccine. Through a drum beat of news...

Many of us take for granted the basic human right to direct our own daily lives: deciding for ourselves when to get up in the morning or go to bed at night, when to take a shower, and when and what to eat. But until recently, people with disabilities who receive Medicaid-funded personal assistance with these types of daily activities have not had much say in how or when those services are provided, or even who provides them.

In the past, state Medicaid programs contracted with home care agencies to provide these personal assistance services to elderly and disabled residents at home. But that assistance was provided on the agency’s terms—not the consumer’s. For people who need help at home, this often meant getting up late in the day, having meals at odd times, going to bed before the sun goes down, and doing without help on weekends. At its heart, the Cash & Counseling program was the policy answer to the belief that people who had more control over...

If today's childhood obesity epidemic continues unabated, we will be faced with a daunting prospect: raising the first generation of American youth with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Indeed, one-third of American children ages two to 19 are currently either obese or at risk of becoming obese. This marks a dramatic spike in the obesity rates among children of all ages nationwide since the 1960s. The related health risks are alarming. Obese children are increasingly being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes -- an affliction previously associated primarily with adults. These children will be at higher risk for having high blood pressure, and more of them will suffer from heart disease.

In 2003, legislators in Arkansas decided to take action to address childhood obesity by passing Act 1220 – which contained a unique, comprehensive plan for involving schools and communities across the state in the fight against obesity. To satisfy the Act's most prominent provision,...

Washington, D.C. is not a healthy city. Compared to the rest of the U.S., the D.C. metropolitan area has higher than average rates of heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and infant mortality—as well as one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the country. Not surprisingly, the most dire health statistics are found in the region’s low-income and minority neighborhoods.

In 2004, impatient with years of seemingly endless public debate about the problems associated with regional health and health care, the Consumer Health Foundation (CHF) decided to seek solutions as the basis for local reform. With help from Burness, the Foundation organized a series of community forums, called “Speakouts,” during which area residents offered suggestions for improving health and health care in the region.

In 2006, CHF released its recommendations in a Burness-produced report: Speaking Up and Speaking Out for Health: A Community Call to Action to Improve Health and Health Care in the...