Newspaper headlines from around the world about polio vaccine
tests (13 April 1955)
Public health is "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting human health through organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals". Analyzing the health of a population and the threats is the basis for public health. The "public" in question can be as small as a handful of people, an entire village or it can be as large as several continents, in the case of a pandemic. "Health" takes into account physical, mental and social well-being. It is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, according to the World Health Organization. Public health is interdisciplinary. For example, epidemiology, biostatistics and health services are all relevant. Environmental health, , behavioral health, health economics, public policy, mental health and occupational safety, gender issues in health, sexual and reproductive health are other important subfields.
Public health aims to improve the quality of life through prevention and treatment of disease, including mental health. This is done through the surveillance of cases and health indicators, and through the promotion of healthy behaviors. Common public health initiatives include promoting handwashing and breastfeeding, delivery of vaccinations, suicide prevention and distribution of condoms to control the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Modern public health practice requires multidisciplinary teams of public health workers and professionals. Teams might include epidemiologists, biostatisticians, medical assistants, public health nurses, midwives, medical microbiologists, economists, sociologists, geneticists and data managers. Depending on the need environmental health officers or public health inspectors, bioethicists, and even veterinarians, gender experts, sexual and reproductive health specialists might be called on.
Access to health care and public health initiatives are difficult challenges in developing countries. Public health infrastructures are still forming in those countries.
The focus of a public health intervention is to prevent and manage diseases, injuries and other health conditions through surveillance of cases and the promotion of healthy behaviors, and environments. Many diseases are preventable through simple, nonmedical methods. For example, research has shown that the simple act of handwashing with soap can prevent the spread of many contagious diseases. In other cases, treating a disease or controlling a pathogen can be vital to preventing its spread to others, either during an outbreak of infectious disease or through contamination of food or water supplies. Public health communications programs, vaccination programs and distribution of condoms are examples of common preventive public health measures. Measures such as these have contributed greatly to the health of populations and increases in life expectancy.
Public health plays an important role in disease prevention efforts in both the developing world and in developed countries through local health systems and non-governmental organizations. The World Health Organization (WHO) is the international agency that coordinates and acts on global public health issues. Most countries have their own government public health agencies, sometimes known as ministries of health, to respond to domestic health issues. For example, in the United States, the front line of public health initiatives are state and local health departments. The United States Public Health Service (PHS), led by the Surgeon General of the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, headquartered in Atlanta, are involved with several international health activities, in addition to their national duties. In Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada is the national agency responsible for public health, emergency preparedness and response, and infectious and chronic disease control and prevention. The Public health system in India is managed by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare of the government of India with state-owned health care facilities.