Challenges and Achievements
In order to promote the health of a community at large, public health often intrudes into what may be considered private space. While one cannot be forced to consume iodine tablets everyday, public health measures like mandatory iodization of salt ensure that people are protected from iodine deficiency (assuming they consume the iodized salt). Many other public health measures are responsible for improving the health of communities- provision of clean water, environmental sanitation, good nutrition, healthful work environments, etc. In fact, much of the increased life expectancy enjoyed by people today is on account of simple public health measures that predate modern medicine.
Thanks to its stated objective of preventing disease and promoting health through collective (community) action, public health inevitably finds itself in challenging and unpopular positions. For instance, eating healthy is not just about personal choices- it includes everything from farm to plate. Therefore, public health advocates sustainable agricultural practices over other approaches, legislation against unhealthy foods, etc. These bring public health practitioners in direct confrontation with big industries and lobbies whose sole aim is to profit at the expense of people’s health. Similarly, reducing inequities/ disparities in health require a long-term commitment. This makes public health unattractive to political leaders who wish to showcase ‘achievements’ during their term as elected representatives. It is no surprise then, that public health is largely an ‘invisible’ field that is forgotten till there is a public health crisis.
Link to US CDC Public Health 101 Course:
Link to related US Public Health Association (USPHA) video: