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 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.