The concept of public health

Public health according to WHO (2008) refers to all organized measures (whether public or private) to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life among the population as a whole. Its activities aim to provide conditions in which people can be healthy and focus on entire populations, not on individual patients or diseases. Thus, public health is concerned with the total system and not only the eradication of a particular disease.

The three main public health functions as stated by WHO (2008) are:

  • The assessment and monitoring of the health of communities and populations at risk to identify health problems and priorities;
  • The formulation of public policies designed to solve identified local and national health problems and priorities; and
  • To assure that all populations have access to appropriate and cost-effective care, including health promotion and disease prevention services.

Public health professionals monitor and diagnose the health concerns of entire communities and promote healthy practices and behaviours to ensure that populations stay healthy. One way to illustrate the breadth of public health is to look at some notable public health campaigns:

  • Vaccination and control of infectious diseases;
  • Motor-vehicle safety;
  • Safer workplaces;
  • Safer and healthier foods;
  • Safe drinking water;
  • Healthier mothers and babies and access to family planning;
  • Decline in deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke; and
  • Recognition of tobacco use as a health hazard.

The term global public health recognizes that, as a result of globalization, forces that affect public health can and do come from outside state boundaries and that responding to public health issues now requires attention to cross-border health risks, including access to dangerous products and environmental change (WHO, 2008).

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