Defining Public Health

Public health is the status of physical or mental well being within a community. From a physical health perspective, public health can be affected by events in the physical environment such as global warming and traffic safety or through communicable and noncommunicable diseases such as Ebola and cancer, respectively. Depending on the size and location of the community, citizens may have different expectations of public health outreach from outside forces. Larger, richer communities with a strong central government, such as those in the United States may expect their governments to take responsibility for the health of the public within the nation. In the United States, it is expected that government put heavy regulations on immigration, food standards, traffic laws, hospital safety, etc. as an effort to protect public wellbeing. Smaller, less developed nations may not be able to rely on a central government to be able to fund large scale public health efforts and, therefore, rely on primitive technologies and volunteer labor. Between nations, public health can begin to be defined as global health which can further be complicated by interacting governments and increasing globalization.

Public health is not only important because of its immediate physical and mental impact on the members of a community, but also because of its effects on the productivity, happiness, and demographics of a community which is crucial to the overall well being. Governments may take interests in the health of its citizens because of its effects on the productivity of a community and their trust of a government. For example, when children in less developed nations are able to live beyond childhood years due to disease prevention and into the age at which they can begin to work, their efforts in the workforce stimulates the workforce, creating a stronger economy and instilling a sense of trust in government intervention.

A recent a well-known instance of the importance of public health is the recent Ebola outbreak in west Africa. Due to the lack of resources in countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, small communities were not able to provide proper care for victims of the Ebola and could not halt its spread. The resulting severity of the virus caused not only public health crises in the affected communities, but also in communities wealthier countries that are hubs of globalization such as the United States. Unlike affected nations, US citizens turned to their government to protect them from the distant outbreak. Such an event exemplifies the importance of both small scale actions such as improving disinfectant techniques in rural villages and large scale actions such as new immigration restrictions to prevent the spread of illness and disease.


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