What is Public Health?

I see public health not as merely as a subject that studies how promote the well-being of populations, but one that has so large a scope that can make use of every piece of human knowledge to solve complex health-related problems.

As a Chinese, I’m glad to see that my motherland is now an expanding world power, but the public healthcare of its citizens is still concerning. Born with a sweet tooth, I’m a frequent visitor to the dentist’s and always suffer from the fear of the dental drill. But the hardest part was that I had to arrive at the registry as early as 6:30 in the morning and waited three hours to receive treatment. Patients crowded the waiting hall and seats are hardly available.

I’ve witnessed how trust and respects towards doctors are plagued by high costs and long waits in China. News about violent attacks against medical professionals flooded every possible web page. It’s because the public couldn’t find a way to voice their opinions to government but they had to vent their anger. The vicious cycle started as less and less undergraduate students choose to pursue a medicine major and the shortage of medical practitioners continued to drive medical expenditures up.

However, the expenses are relatively cheap compared to those of the US citizens, and it’s definitely easier to see a doctor in China since there’s no appointment needed. Why are people still unsatisfied? Is there anything wrong with the social medical insurance policy? What can the government do to increase the number of medical doctors? When I’m pondering on these questions, I realized that public health is not only about distributing condoms and giving vaccinations, but a much more complicated field in which different subjects such as economics, demography, culture studies and public policy come cross and intertwine, trying to make healthcare and well-being possible, accessible and affordable for every citizen. Yes, curative medicine is the key that can facilitate us to achieve “health”, but not “public health”. Unlike science, there are not certain, quantitative answers or even existing theories that can help me answer those three questions I raised. The field of public health is so pivotal to us since its significance is already embodied in our everyday life. For example, in the context of my previous experience, we need doctors to be reachable and we need public health leaders to address the inefficiency between the demand and supply. Even if one argues that we don’t meet with doctors on a day-to-day basis, but other than biosciences, sewage treatment, custom inspection, and nutrition all are indispensable contributors to our well-being and they are different dimensions of the field of public health. We are sometimes oblivious of them, but we cannot deny the value of their existence.

Defining and Understanding Public Health

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, wouldnt 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 todays society, disease spreads globally. For example, the Zika virus outbreak is a current example of how neglecting certain countrieshealth 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 preferablewho wants to be sick if its 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 dont we invest more in such measures?

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.

What is Public Health?

Public health is the wellbeing of a group of people in a society. These groups can range from small communities—like those of neighborhoods or cities—to populations of countries or continents, or the entire globe. Inherently, the word “public” describes something that is influenced by multiple members of society. Thus, public health depends on the interactions between members of a community, how individual influences translate into a larger and more widespread effect. These form the health trends that we commonly see described today: the HIV epidemic, the spread of Zika virus, or the obesity epidemic. The study of public health aims to identify factors that affect multiple people, unlike medicine which attempts to treat individuals. The scope of public health can range from a small outbreak of food poisoning in an isolated neighborhood to prevalent infectious diseases such as Ebola or HIV that span multiple countries and multiple continents. Public health can be as basic as providing adequate nutrition and water to impoverished communities or as complex as creating a vaccine for HIV or Zika. It encompasses a broad spectrum of topics related to the health of a community: age, nutrition, pollution, cultural customs, class differences, federal policy, and much more.

Understanding public health is important because it can help governments make informed decisions and craft policies that can improve the standard of living for people, allowing people to live happier and more comfortable lives. For example, public health surveillance and the use of epidemiological records allows the government to track the prevalence of diseases to identify problems. Water testing prevents the public from acquiring waterborne diseases found in polluted waters. Public health is also important because it educates the public about the consequences of their actions. For example, public health research has uncovered the dangers of smoking, sexually transmitted diseases, and pollution, and helped individuals make better choices for their own lives and the lives of those around them. Public health also helps us understand what is occurring outside of our individual lives and promotes the formation of organizations that can provide aid to those who are less fortunate with the goal of promoting worldwide wellbeing. Through public health, the citizens of the world can live safer, more satisfying lives.

Defining Public Health

Public health is the study of the health conditions of populations as affected by socioeconomic circumstances, and ways to effectively combat illnesses and unhealthy lifestyles as a community.

A critical component to public health studies is research. Research helps to generate accurate records of the health standards in different populations under different living conditions. For example, researchers involved in epidemiology study the distribution and spread of diseases, helping to characterize the environments in which certain diseases are transmitted and the ways or social dynamics in which they are spread. Such illnesses cover both infectious diseases, the most alarming of which include the Zika virus, MERS, and Ebola, as well as noninfectious diseases such as cancer and heart disease. It is important to note that it is the public health sector that does not simply look at the severity or cure of disease, as would most medical professionals; public health tries to understand the culture or lifestyles that lead to such distribution of various illnesses. The research component of public health is becoming ever more pivotal as globalization is taking place at an accelerating rate—we now have more interactions with people of different regions, which, in essence, leave us more susceptible to transmit disease by means of both physical contact and cultural assimilation. Characterizing a region with a certain lifestyle and its prevalent diseases not only helps to track the transmittance and origin of a disease but also helps to effectively deal with other situations, similar in circumstances, in a different region or time period.

Public health not only studies but also acts. Public health professionals try to come up with the most effective yet feasible solution to the various public health issues addressed by research. Delivering adequate health care to developing countries is a major mission that many public health organizations strive for. In doing so, however, they must consider the long term and short-term benefits to the nations’ health standards. A classic debate is providing medication, which would be a short-term solution, versus providing education to train their people to become future doctors and health-related researchers, a long-term solution. Another major mission of many public health professionals is to help trigger change in unhealthy lifestyles in both developing and developed nations. These efforts take form of public service announcements, and education on healthy lifestyles. In such ways, public health takes on both preventative and therapeutic approaches.

Lastly, public health professionals help to look at medical diagnoses from the perspective of both the physician and patient. For example, the “over-diagnosis” of thyroid cancer in South Korea in recent years has been a source of debate. With development of technology, patients have been able to detect thyroid cancers at very early stages and a very low cost. Upon diagnosis however, some argue that the tumors do not have to be treated while others argue that patients be on the safe side, and have the tumor removed. Public health sectors may help to analyze and weigh out the economic limitations patients see in the operation and doctors’ judgments of removal for long-term health. The high diagnosis of thyroid cancer in South Korea, itself, may be another focus of some public health professionals.

In sum, public health professionals strive to research, understand and ameliorate health conditions of various populations of disparate socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.