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.