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, wouldn’t 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 today’s society, disease spreads globally. For example, the Zika virus outbreak is a current example of how neglecting certain countries’ health 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 preferable—who wants to be sick if it’s 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 don’t we invest more in such measures?