Understanding the Context of Public Health’s Conceptual Origin

To understand public health beyond the conceptual definition I will conjecture regarding its origin in Western societies. The origin of public health is likely rooted in 19th century social changes. An example location that I will use as a basis for this discussion is London during the aforementioned period.

In the early 19th century new technology and power shifts in England fueled the phenomenon known as industrialization. Industrialization changed nearly every aspect of social life. Before the scientific and industrial revolution, life in England for most people was typically rural and agrarian. Techniques in farming and production displaced traditional workers and, in a chain of events, led to increased urbanization and disruption of traditional community safety nets.

With these changes the city of London faced several major problems. The first issue was overstraining of infrastructural resources in the city. Public wells and streets were overused and unsafe, and the new economic system could offer no solutions to these issues. Second, increased population density meant that transmissible diseases spread rapidly throughout the city. Lastly, the new industry was dumping pollutants into the air and waters of England. This created hazardous conditions and made many previously-populated areas unlivable.

The work of John Snow, whose findings linked a contaminated well to a cholera outbreak in London, revolutionized understanding of public health globally as a societal necessity. Government-run public health programs expanded as 1) New technology enabled the detection and elimination of health threats; 2) People became convinced that systematic measures to ensure public health and safety were efficient and trustworthy; and 3) The notion that the government had a moral responsibility to protect society’s vulnerable became more widely held.

Public health is a general term that refers to a measure of a population’s wellbeing. Today there are many who dispute the extent to which the government should be involved in ensuring public health. These perspectives continue to shape health policy, which affects the wellbeing of billions of people worldwide.

What is Public Health?

I see public health not as merely as a subject that studies how promote the well-being of populations, but one that has so large a scope that can make use of every piece of human knowledge to solve complex health-related problems.

As a Chinese, I’m glad to see that my motherland is now an expanding world power, but the public healthcare of its citizens is still concerning. Born with a sweet tooth, I’m a frequent visitor to the dentist’s and always suffer from the fear of the dental drill. But the hardest part was that I had to arrive at the registry as early as 6:30 in the morning and waited three hours to receive treatment. Patients crowded the waiting hall and seats are hardly available.

I’ve witnessed how trust and respects towards doctors are plagued by high costs and long waits in China. News about violent attacks against medical professionals flooded every possible web page. It’s because the public couldn’t find a way to voice their opinions to government but they had to vent their anger. The vicious cycle started as less and less undergraduate students choose to pursue a medicine major and the shortage of medical practitioners continued to drive medical expenditures up.

However, the expenses are relatively cheap compared to those of the US citizens, and it’s definitely easier to see a doctor in China since there’s no appointment needed. Why are people still unsatisfied? Is there anything wrong with the social medical insurance policy? What can the government do to increase the number of medical doctors? When I’m pondering on these questions, I realized that public health is not only about distributing condoms and giving vaccinations, but a much more complicated field in which different subjects such as economics, demography, culture studies and public policy come cross and intertwine, trying to make healthcare and well-being possible, accessible and affordable for every citizen. Yes, curative medicine is the key that can facilitate us to achieve “health”, but not “public health”. Unlike science, there are not certain, quantitative answers or even existing theories that can help me answer those three questions I raised. The field of public health is so pivotal to us since its significance is already embodied in our everyday life. For example, in the context of my previous experience, we need doctors to be reachable and we need public health leaders to address the inefficiency between the demand and supply. Even if one argues that we don’t meet with doctors on a day-to-day basis, but other than biosciences, sewage treatment, custom inspection, and nutrition all are indispensable contributors to our well-being and they are different dimensions of the field of public health. We are sometimes oblivious of them, but we cannot deny the value of their existence.

What is Public Health?

When I hear the words, “public health”, the accompanying word “crisis” immediately comes to mind. I envision world-wide health threats such as Ebola and Zika that I have seen headline CNN and BBC during their respective outbreaks. I remember reading reports about public health officials from all over the world making their way to West Africa and Brazil to assess these epidemics and make efforts to prevent their spread. However, in reality, I realize that this “definition” of public health is only a subset of the complete picture. Public health is a massive subject area with focuses in healthcare, medical treatment policy, and outreach for better educating the public, not simply epidemiology (the study of diseases). I have to thank my sister for helping me paint this more complete picture of what public health really is with her six years of education in public health. Many people develop a misconception of public health simply because of the attention that public health receives in the news at the time of epidemics. Additionally, the lack of attention public health officials receive when attempting to push for reform in equally pressing issues such as health care further this peninsular definition. In my opinion, public health is just as important on a local scale as on a global scale. It is perhaps in even greater need of attention on a small scale, as outreach efforts made in the community are frequently easier to execute and often times more effective than the large scale crisis responses efforts. With many problems in America alone, such as a “broken healthcare system” and the lack of an accompanying universal medical record system, public health is ever important to keep lines of communication open to inform the public. Organizations such as the WHO are always vital in the globalized world today that is constantly threatened by the spread of disease; however, small public health efforts are just as important in spreading ways to stay healthy to everyone.

Defining Public Health

Public health is a field that aims to meet the medical needs of entire communities, in contrast to “typical” health professions, who aim to meet medical needs at an individual level. Sanitation, vaccines, contraception, environmental regulations, etc. all encompass regular functions of public health. I would argue that public health is one of the most (if not the most) important career sectors in the contemporary world. In our current society, humans need (healthy) humans in order to achieve “progress,” or whatever that elusive term may represent. A community can therefore not succeed if there is a continuous, debilitated workforce impeding it. In order to combat this, public health seeks to ensure that a community is indeed healthy.

Due to globalization, our ever-shrinking world is consistently redefining what it means to work in public health, as communities continue to become more interwoven with one other. Because of this interconnectedness, public health officials have been forced care deeply about health in not just their own communities, but in communities around the world. In 2014, the entire world began to fear when West Africa experienced an Ebola outbreak. We knew that one short flight by someone does not know that he/she is affected by the virus could cause the outbreak to spread to anywhere in the world in less than a day. Such has been the reality for less than a century of all of human history. Globalization has not simply brought on the increased migration of diseases, however, but also an increased trading and collaboration on technology. Today, a vaccine that may be developed in Germany can be easily accessible today in all parts of the globe within the span of a week. Additionally, public health officials from different areas of the world are not only able to use each other’s work, but they are also able to collaborate with one other, either by traveling to be with one another in person or by collaborating ideas virtually. While the means to protect public health are ever changing, the sole goal has stood the test of time – ensure the health of the public.

Defining and Understanding Public Health

How was your last visit to the doctor? Whether you were sweating profusely because of a fever or coughing uncontrollably because of a virus, you likely felt considerably better a few days after the visit. However, wouldnt you be happier if you had avoided the struggle of illness? What would have happened if you had not had access to a doctor?

This is the premise for public health: individual care isn’t available to tackle health problems of whole societies (especially in developing countries), so officials must rely on preventative and educational efforts to address wide-ranging issues. Fortunately, public health policies can be implemented and impact communities everywhere, reducing the inequality of healthcare between developing and developed nations. I would even argue that public health is more effective than individual care because of its intrinsic wide-ranging approach. Thus, individual health resources can be used more efficiently.

Public health cannot be neatly confined to certain regions or populations because in todays society, disease spreads globally. For example, the Zika virus outbreak is a current example of how neglecting certain countrieshealth care needs leads to consequences on a much larger scale. Though primarily contained in Brazil, the lacking response has permitted the virus to spread to many other countries, including the US. A relatively minor-scale problem has now evolved into a potential pandemic because of the absence of coordinated public health actions.

In short, there are two main benefits of prioritizing public health policies over individual care. Primarily, it helps bridge the inequalities between rich and poor countries because it is cost effective. The focus on preventative care rather than treatment is undoubtedly cheaper and preferablewho wants to be sick if its avoidable? In developed countries, illness may just be an inconvenience; in other places, a crippling blow to entire families is avoided. This ties into the second case for public health: public health measures help everyone around the world. Policy and measures in Africa ultimately also help Americans by curbing potential epidemics. Given the incentives for promoting public health, why dont we invest more in such measures?

Public Health?

Most individuals would regard “good health” as a blessing because they are aware that without good health, they would not be able to function and carry out their day-to-day lives. Thus, policymakers, healthcare officials, and community leaders prioritize discussions and decisions about public health, or the collective well-being of a community.

Public health is a comprehensive topic because of the multitude of areas that could improve or damage the well-being of a community. For example, residents of third-world countries living in the most extreme forms of poverty are likely to have poor health. Poverty has shown to lead to issues like a shortage of healthcare facilities and personnel, lack of sanitation, and malnourishment. Each of these factors has the potential to impair the health of a nation’s residents and create a cycle over generations in which, the public health of that community, is threatened. Thus, the agendas and policies decision-makers create regarding the economics, infrastructure, and healthcare of their nation affect the living conditions and essentially the health of their communities.

Public health also relies on the decisions made collectively by a community. For example, genocide and other forms of war, decided upon and enacted by one group with the intention of harming another, pose implications for the public health of the community. In war-torn areas, people often lack access to essentials like clothing, food, and water, and as their lifestyle begins to deteriorate, so does their health. War weapons can also create new health issues like lead poisoning and acid burns. In some areas, certain groups have cultural views that objectively damage their health. For example, the stigma against women with fistulas in Africa and the practices of genital mutilation and breast-ironing all pose a threat to the lives of those respective populations.

Lastly, public health can also be impacted by non-human factors such as natural disasters and epidemics. Droughts, floods, and earthquakes often create conditions that prevent populations from accessing basic resources. Epidemics such as Ebola and Zika also take the lives of thousands and challenge scientists and decision-makers to create solutions that would stunt the spread of these illnesses. The decisions created at a local and global scale that affect the well-being of populations experiencing similar conditions are thus integral to maintaining public health.

Intertwined Destinies

Normally, we think of health as doctors who operate on an individual basis with the patient. They build an emotional connection where the doctor is a personal guide through times of tribulation. However, public health enlarges this interaction to another scale, and public health workers are able to make an impact on a larger scale. However, public health bears little emotional connection that individual healthcare offers. To me, public health is the interdisciplinary maintenance of the physical and mental wellbeing of populations. Public health inevitably involves many different fields such as economics, politics, and even environmental science.

This summer, I participated in Urban Immersion, a week-long community service program at Rice University and on the second day, the group toured the east side of Houston and the environmental injustices the community was facing. We discovered that the imbalance in wealth and power between communities in Houston led the government to build numerous dangerous, toxic chemical refineries and waste dumping sites unnecessarily close to low-incoming communities. This unfortunate scenario in turn jeopardizes the public health of many communities.

Public health also brings everyone in a community closer, whether they like it or not. I attended an all-boys private boarding school in high school, and there was an epidemic where random students started puking and confined to their beds due to a mysterious contagious disease. While I was fortunate enough to not get sick, I felt stuck and embedded in a community and actively sought to take care and look out for my fellow classmates. If one person got sick, the likelihood of an entire population to contract a disease increases drastically since we all live in close proximity to each other.

My boarding experiences in high school paints a picture of public health, which is important because it affects every single one of us. All policies regarding healthcare, Ebola, Zika, and disease prevention are and should be of concern to us. Especially in an increasingly globalized society, all of us are invariably connected and public health becomes absolutely vital to the survival of the human race. Indeed, our destinies are intertwined and whether we like it or not, we are in this mess together.

What is Public Health?

Public health focuses on preserving the health and happiness of communities, and more specifically, the individuals who constitute the communities. As such, public health remains significant because it fosters an ongoing dialogue between individuals and their surrounding environment. Further exploration of this dynamic dialogue—through first person accounts, stories, and other literature—helps to expand the scope of public health; public health advocates can use these insights and resources to push for policies that provide more comprehensive and affordable healthcare for people across multiple regions. These advocates are able to accomplish this through conducting extensive experiments, compiling their research, and setting aside time to promote public health. Through the advocates’ findings and efforts, a health standard—a paragon of wellness—can be established and worked toward.

This health standard encompasses individuals in all communities, from the vaccines we receive at the doctor’s office to the regulation of clean water. However, public health also remains relevant because there are public health issues that challenge the health standard. Regardless of whether these issues are ongoing, like the Zika outbreak and climate change, or more recent, like the Louisiana flooding and earthquakes in central Italy, the individuals of a community must form in solidarity and act effectively. As medical dispatchers and local hospital staff send reinforcements and resources to help those affected, they are also setting an example for the common citizen. And it is during this time that the common person plays a crucial role: remaining complacent or ignorant stunts the advancement of public health because there would be no discussion or relationship between individuals and their environment. Reading the news and staying knowledgeable about both domestic and global issues are just stepping-stones to engaging in public health activism. We, as individuals, are responsible not only for preserving the health and happiness of our community, but also for caring about the public health of those around us. Public health’s importance ultimately stems from its ability to foster empathy and bring about change among communities.

Public Health: Anticipation, Prevention, and Solution

Public health can be defined as the health of all people as a collective, with regards to chronic illness, epidemics, pandemics, nutrition, mental stability, and environment. Public health can refer to the health of a specific population, such as that of a city, or to the health of the entire human population.

In the past few years, public health has risen tremendously in popularity as an area of academic study due to outbreaks such as the H1N1 “Swine Flu” outbreak, Ebola, Zika, Avian flu, and other epidemics. Its prestige and reputation as a discipline has also been catapulted by major health issues such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, malnutrition, the Flint water crisis, and suicide. Within popular culture, books such as The Hot Zone or movies like Contagion, have made the general public aware of the ease of transmission of illness due to globalization. With increasing levels of international trade, travel, and interaction, the threat of a pandemic appears even more menacing than ever before.

Also aiding in public health’s importance are ever-improving medical advancements. Every year, medicine becomes a more exact science. This allows mankind to address health issues in new and unique ways. Already, diseases such as small pox have already been eradicated, with polio close behind.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, humans need to feel safe. Public health, along with law enforcement, hospitals, fire departments, FEMA, and other organizations, helps aid in this venture. By assisting in keeping epidemics at bay, or by sending in help after a natural disaster, public health specialists maintain the safety of the general human population. This alone makes public health a critical field within our society.

Our daily lives as humans are shaped by politics, society, the environment, and our health. My father used to joke that he got through college on his youth and coffee. This is true for many doctors, engineers, lawyers, and professionals. With a debilitating illness, it is extremely difficult or impossible to attend class, hold a job, or function normally. For most people, health is a huge factor in their success. Similar to a major environmental disaster, a war, or some sort of structural violence, epidemics and major health issues can wreak havoc on an individual’s life. From an economic perspective, long-living and healthy workers allow for faster economic growth. It is for this reason that the study of public health and the infrastructure that it provides exists – for the anticipation, prevention, and solution of medical disasters.


Defining Public Health

Public health refers to the stability of the health of the general population in the whole world. Public health agencies take the actions to promote a healthy lifestyle in a population, to prevent diseases and outbreaks, and to ensure that everyone lives in the safest environment they can. Public health works to lessen the severity of or eradicate such diseases as HIV/AIDS, malaria, Zika and outbreaks such as smallpox or the plague by conducting research in scientific labs and advocating prevention methods. Many public health goals are also Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations.

Previously, I’ve participated in research pertaining to the field of public health. The question we were testing was how accessible e-liquids and e-cigarettes are to minors, since those substances are becoming more popular in that age group. As a minor, I purchased the e-liquids from over 100 different websites and recorded if I was able to, any warnings the purchase was preceded with, any warnings on the physical bottle, and if there were any age checks at time of purchase or at delivery. As a lab group, we concluded that there are virtually no security guidelines to the purchasing of these substances at any age and that stronger reinforcements must be taken to protect the safety of the youth. Public health initiatives against nicotine products ensure that people are aware of the consequences of their actions, and encourage people to make smart decisions concerning their body.

The importance of public health is profound—it is one of the most vital industries keeping the human race alive. Without public health, the world would lack such basic necessities such as potable water, clean air, and safe living conditions—many of which we take for granted in developed countries. Public health is needed to establish these conditions in developing countries and to maintain them in all areas throughout future generations. Aside from safe living environments, public health is also extremely important during disaster outbreaks in controlling the epidemic, treating the affected, and educating the public about the next steps to follow.