What is public health?
Most of the time I have a hard time explaining this, but here it goes. In medicine, doctors and nurses treat health problems one patient at a time. In public health, we are concerned with preventing health problems, and at the population level. Public health professionals work to identify the root causes of health problems, and implement large-scale solutions to address them.
Because public health generally works towards prevention, it’s work often goes unnoticed. Yet, the work of public health professionals is so important because public health initiatives affect people every day in every part of the world. For example, millions of people are alive today thanks to initiatives such as vaccination programs, motor vehicle safety laws, restrictions on the use of tobacco, and clean air, food, and water standards.
The mission of public health is to improve the conditions and behaviors that affect health so that all people can attain it. That mission includes not only the practice of public health programming and services, but also the research on public health issues and transfer of research knowledge to leaders who will support policies to improve the health of people locally, nationally, and globally.
Need examples of real-life public health work? I have been lucky to be involved in a number of initiatives in different parts of the world, including:
- Identifying supply and demand factors for local food in Thunder Bay
- Assessing media’s portrayal of drinking water issues among Indigenous communities in Canada
- Using a systems approach to improving food security in West Africa
- Delivering vitamin A to communities through fortified sunflower oil in Tanzania
- Understanding health risks of waste management in Vietnam
- Development of a national animal health surveillance system in Vietnam
- Addressing agriculture intensification impacts on health and environment in Southeast Asia and China
- Determining impact of violence-against-children prevention programs in Sri Lanka
- Exploring disease outbreaks associated with swimming pools in Canada
- Developing a State of the Environment Report for Grey-Bruce counties
I would be happy to discuss any of these projects further, but if you would like more information about public health in general, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the World Health Organization does some great work at the national and global level. Check them out!