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.