Definition & Overview
Public health refers to organized activities by the public and/or private sectors to address issues concerning the factors that affect the health situation of an entire community or population. These include diseases, safety, food quality, and provision of medical services. Public health encompasses the entire spectrum and not just a particular category. However, it addresses each factor individually to ensure the overall health and safety levels of the community are kept at an optimal level.
Threats to Public Health
Public health can be threatened by a number of factors that include natural disasters, disease outbreaks, accidents that involve hazardous materials, and even terrorist attacks.
In most cases, public health departments and officials apply preventive measures. For instance, water supplies can be protected from terrorist threats and accidents and transportation of hazardous materials can be limited to certain routes. The production of gasses or anything that affects air quality can also be limited.
However, in some cases, prevention may not be an option. Natural disasters cannot be prevented thus public health departments ensure that they are fully equipped to respond to any emergencies caused by a natural disaster.
Disease outbreaks may also be difficult to prevent, but these can be contained using the right equipment and procedures. Containing an outbreak will normally require the cooperation of several departments, including health and law enforcement. It will also need the cooperation of the general population to prevent the disease from spreading.
Monitoring of Public Health
The only way that public health organizations can respond quickly to any threats and minimize any damages is to have monitoring systems in place. Hospitals play an important role in monitoring public health by submitting reports on diseases or other medical related issues that concern the overall health of the community.
Public health is also monitored by law enforcement organizations, cancer organizations, disease control organizations, and health departments that monitor air quality, water safety, and other public utilities.
However, monitoring is only a part of being prepared. The ability to respond quickly to any perceived threat is also an important part of public heath services. Response preparedness entails organizing groups that can provide immediate assessment of any given situation. They will need to have access to laboratories, disaster response equipment, and even law enforcement.
Common Public Health Campaigns
Being prepared for any threats to public health is the key to the success of the system. One way to ensure preparedness is to organize public health campaigns that involve entire communities. Examples of these campaigns are:
Vaccination campaigns – Hospitals, schools, and local government units are usually involved in vaccination campaigns. In some countries, vaccinations are mandatory and subsidized by the government.
Vehicle safety campaigns – Vehicle manufacturers need to ensure that their vehicles pass safety standards. Vehicle operators are required to undergo periodic health and licensure examinations. The general population needs to be aware of safety measures that can prevent the loss of life.
Workplace safety – Safety in the workplace is always a major concern, especially if the work involves handling hazardous materials or construction of buildings.
Food and Water safety campaigns – Public health organizations regularly conduct campaigns concerning the safety of food and water. These campaigns not only involve disseminating information, but also performing inspection on food production facilities and distributors.
Family planning campaigns – Controlling the population to prevent it from expanding too rapidly that available resources become strained thus resulting in health concerns can be achieved through family planning campaigns.
Cancer screening and other life-threatening diseases campaigns – Treating cancer and other life threatening diseases can usually be easier to accomplish when the disease is still in its early stages. To accomplish this, public health organizations conduct cancer screening campaigns on a regular basis.
Consumer products campaigns – Some consumer products can also pose threats to public health. To help prevent threats arising from consumer products, public health organizations regularly hold information campaigns on what products to avoid.
Development of Public Health Policies
It will be impossible to achieve optimal levels of public health without laws and policies that ensure the population is adhering to safety practices. A good example is the seatbelt law. These devices have been proven to save lives in vehicular accidents. Unfortunately, without a law that states using seatbelts is necessary, many people will simply not use the devices, maybe because they are uncomfortable or for any other reason.
Most countries have laws governing the use of dangerous drugs. Without these laws, the population will have access to any drugs of their choice and the condition of public health will be greatly affected, not only for those who use those drugs, but also for those that they can affect while under the influence of the drugs.
Ensuring Access to Health Services
One of the biggest factors that can affect public health is the availability of health facilities and services to the general public. Public health organizations need to ensure that there are sufficient health facilities available to service the population. These facilities also need to be able to provide adequate health services to everybody regardless of the economic situation.
In most cases, public and private health services organizations need to become partners to achieve a common goal. Health care systems may be established by the government, but its implementation governs both public and private sectors.
Evaluation of Public Health Services
The availability and effectiveness of public health services need to be evaluated on a regular basis to ensure the competence of service providers and that the facilities are fully equipped to handle any threat.
These evaluations need to be performed due to the scarcity of resources. Ensuring that the health levels of the general population are kept at optimal levels places a heavy strain on both financial and human resources.
By performing regular evaluations, public health organizations can make informed decisions regarding the distribution of resources. Additionally, government departments can also create policies or activate measures that will ensure that public health services are allocated appropriately despite the scarcity of resources.
- Center for Disease Control & Prevention
- World Health Organization – Public Health