With an infant mortality rate that rivals that of Third World countries, with a cancer death rate that is the highest in the nation, with the rate of death from chronic liver disease four times the national average and other similarly grim health statistics, it is impossible to understand why The Post's D.C. mayoral candidate profiles did not include health as a "key issue."

Could it be that the public, including reporters, has become so used to the high death rates that the situation does not merit such priority, that it has lost its news value? Those of us who work in the health-care industry see every day that these numbers translate to real people with real lives. Unfortunately, we also see the tragedy of apathy about the poor health status of our community reflected in the lack of attention given to it by politicians and the media. What should be a "front-burner" issue, side-by-side with education, housing and jobs, is left to languish on the back burner.

The budgetary support for the public health system -- the primary-care clinics and D.C. General Hospital -- has been slashed repeatedly as the District struggles with its deficit. But at what cost? It is time to make critical decisions about where our tax dollars will be spent. We need to know if health is a priority for our political candidates. If it is not, we will continue to see a deteriorating public health system and with it the deteriorating health of the District's residents. HOWARD T. JESSAMY President District of Columbia Hospital Association Washington