Making a public health difference
Public health makes are real difference in peoples' lives by creating or advocating for national health via healthy social, physical, and cultural environments.
"The major gains in health in this [20th] century have been attributable largely to the impact of public health and disease prevention, rather than to medical interventions." The future of public health. Bloom, B.R. Harvard Public Health Review. Fall 2000.
A healthy social environment is where:
- People have equal opportunities for education and employment
- Individuals and whānau have adequate incomes
- People feel part of the community and not outside it
- People are not discriminated against
- Communities are peaceful and non-violent
- There are fewer influences – such as tobacco advertising – which support unhealthy lifestyles
- Healthy choices are the easy choices – for example, where nutritious food is cheaper than unhealthy food.
A healthy physical environment is where:
- The water we drink is free from contamination by toxins and disease-causing micro-organisms
- Effective sewage and waste water systems are in place
- People are able to travel easily and safely to shops, schools, employment and services
- There are good opportunities with communities for leisure activities
- Adequate housing is available for all.
A healthy cultural environment is where:
- There is full participation of tangata whenua in decision making
- The traditions, languages and spiritual beliefs of all cultures are valued and respected.
Immediate and long-term benefits to community health
There can be immediate benefits to community health from public health activities.
For example; a water supply becomes contaminated by micro-organisms. The reason for the contamination is quickly identified and communities are advised to boil all drinking-water until further notice. Steps are also taken to prevent similar health issues recurring, thus protecting community health.
Other health programs can take longer to achieve positive outcomes. For example; the benefits of a well-balanced diet during childhood may be greatest in middle age.
An effective approach to a community-based public health program is one that uses a community development process. The service is developed with people in that community, supporting them to design and deliver the health program.