Community Newsletter – Overview of Public Health
Public health is the art and science of preventing disease, promoting good health, and prolonging life through the informed choices and the organized efforts of an individual, organizations, public and private communities, or a whole society (Charles & Amory, 1920). It is an interdisciplinary field with several sub-fields, including environmental health, community health, health economics, behavioral health, public health, mental health, health education, occupational safety, disability, gender issues, health politics, and sexual reproductive health (Perdiguero, 2001). Public health is essential in improving society members’ health, leading to a prolonged and quality life. Through public health management, a healthy lifestyle for both the individual and society is improved while diseases are controlled and outbreaks are adequately managed and prevented (Riegelman & Kirkwood, 2015).
Public health plays a vital role in identifying common health threats in a given society and specialize in diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and dementia in maintaining the health of the population. Given the expensive nature of healthcare, especially in treating and curing diseases, public health focuses on the prevention measure; to stop infections before they occur. It helps to detect issues as early as possible and responds appropriately to disease development.
One of the main advantages of public health is that it focuses on the whole population rather than on health at an individual level. In this manner, proper public health management proves to be less expensive in the long run, as many people benefit from the same system, rather than just a selected few. Public health management ensures the health of every member of society. It focuses on becoming a voice to the voiceless, educating the public about health hazards through educational programs, campaigns, and influencing government policies on health.
Historical Development of Public Health
Public health has developed and evolved ever since the beginning of human civilization. In his book on the history of public health, Rosen (1993) notes that communities have always fought diseases at the population level. However, the definitions of health and methods vary across the medical, religious, and natural-philosophical ideas held by different groups. Public health has evolved in every civilization, and no particular region or form of civilization can be attributed to being the origin of public health. Strategies to increase public safety have been in use since ancient times from Europe, Southeast Asia, Aboriginal Australians, Western Europe, and Africa. It was widespread across all regions and religions worldwide in strict but balanced regimes, including diets developed in Christian monasteries across the Eastern Mediterranean and western Europe.
Residents and rulers developed health measures and rules that recognized many risks in the early cities. They came up with several preventive methods of controlling public health through the construction of infrastructures such as roads, market places, and zoning policies aimed at preserving residents’ health. Officials fought against pollution and other public health-related issues (Henderson, 2010). Pollution and waste reduction were a coordinated effort by craft guilds who advocated harm reduction through honesty and labor safety among members. On the other hand, evidence of government intervention in early public health management is seen in how medical practitioners and health physicians collaborated with governments in predicting and preparing for calamities such as leprosy and isolating the effected to prevent its spread (Nutton, 1981).
Urban residents and other residents also developed preventive measures to respond to calamities such as war, floods, famine, and widespread diseases (Petaros et al., 2013). Preventive measures to reduce calamities’ fatality have continued to improve since the Black Death pandemic, which included the establishment of quarantine facilities and health boards that evolved to become urban and national offices. These were followed by other health measures such as issuing health passports for travelers, deploying guards to create sanitary cordons to protect local inhabitants, and gathering morbidity and mortality statistics (Cohn, 2012).
In modern public health practices, the 18th century experienced rapid growth in voluntary hospitals in England to establish the basic pattern of improvements in public health for the next centuries. The introduction of the vaccination practice took root in the 1800s after Edward Jenner’s work in treating smallpox. The industrial revolution brought about rapid shifts in demographics as urban centers experienced rapid population growth. Rapid urbanization increased the spread of diseases in the settlement and the rapid growth of slums. This led to an attempt to establish public health institutions to foster sanitary reforms in the 1940s. Later, public health campaigns became more frequent in the face of the outbreak of infectious diseases such as cholera and yellow fever. These campaigns were influential in the formation of the Public Health Act in 1848. Vaccination of various diseases was made compulsory in the United Kingdom in 1851, while further interventions and improvements were made to the Public Health Act. Significant scientific discoveries have continued to shape the public health field prompt necessary changes to combat the ever-shifting public health landscape.
Careers in Public Health
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 4.6 million new healthcare positions by 2028. Out of this, 3.4 million jobs are projected to be in healthcare and social assistance alone. Careers in public health include researchers, educators, and social workers projected to see consistent growth in the next decade. Available include biostatistics and informatics, public health communications, community health workers, public health education, emergency management, environmental health, epidemiology and research, medical practice, mental health, global health careers, public policy administration, and social and behavioral science. These fields also have specific jobs that one can choose from.
Charles, W., & Amory, E. (1920). The Untilled Field of Public Health. Modern Medicine, 2, 183-191.
Cohn, Samuel K. (2012). Cultures of plague : medical thinking at the end of the Renaissance. Oxford University Press
Henderson, John. “Public Health, Pollution and the Problem of Waste Disposal in Early Modern Tuscany.” In Le interazioni fra economia e ambiente biologico nell’Europa preindustriale. Secc. XIII-XVIII. Edited by Simonetta Cavaciocchi, 373-82 (Florence: Firenze University Press, 2010)
Nutton, Vivian. “Continuity or Rediscovery? The City Physician in Classical Antiquity and Mediaeval Italy.” In The Town and State Physician in Europe. Edited by Andrew W. Russell, 9-46. (Wolfenbüttel: Herzog August Bibliothek, 1981)
Perdiguero, E. (2001). Anthropology in public health. Bridging differences in culture and society. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 55(7), 528.
Petaros, A., Skrobonja, A., Culina, T., Bosnar, A., Frkovic, V., & Azman, J. (2013). Public Health Problems in the Medieval Statutes of Croatian Adriatic Coastal Towns: From Public Morality to Public Health. Journal of religion and health, 52(2), 531-537.
Riegelman, R. K., & Kirkwood, B. (2015). Public health 101: Healthy people–healthy populations. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. Rosen, George (1993). The History of Public Health. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University