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Public Health: The Subject and its Scope

Public health is a multi-faceted field. It offers huge scope and is a great chance for working towards global health benefits.
BY Vindhya Vatsyayan |   26-10-2015

“Without health life is not life; it is only a state of languor and suffering - an image of death.”
-Buddha

“Ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages is essential to sustainable development.”
- United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3

The World Health Organization (WHO) refers to public health as ‘organized measures to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life among human populations.’  Public health researchers, practitioners, and educators focus on entire populations, not on individual patients or diseases. For example, instead of treating a substance abuse patient, a public health professional tries to identify the causes of substance abuse, and develop interventions and programs to prevent the spread.

According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, there is a great range of career options in the public health sector.

You might find microbiologists working to find a vaccine for malaria; behavioural scientists researching ways to discourage populations from smoking; environmental health scientists  trying to discover which foods can prevent cancer;  or, an epidemiologist trying to identify megatrends in health and illness, and formulating interventions, such as in HIV/AIDS, TB, and infant mortality

These are just a few pathways one can pursue as a public health professional. Here are glimpses of some more:

Biostatistics
The UNC Gillings School of Public Health describes Biostatistics as a field which involves the development and application of statistical science to human health and disease. Data is analyzed to determine the cause of illness and injury, identify health trends in communities, analyze risk factors, plan interventions, or evaluate statistical data for clinical trials. For example, you can estimate the number of deaths from gun violence, or analyze trends in cancer incidence.

Environmental Sciences
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, there is a need of careful research and training in environmental health. This emphasises the role of air, water, the artificial environment, and the workplace, as critical determinants in human health on a global scale. Research approaches range from molecular studies to policy evaluation.

Epidemiology
Epidemiology is the study of how often diseases occur in different groups of people and why and is often considered the “fundamental science” of public health. The School of Public Health at University of Michigan, states that one of the major missions of an epidemiologist is to study the risk of disease associated with inherent, acquired, social, and environmental factors, and by the development and application of methods to alleviate that risk.

Health Policy and Management

The Health Policy and Management Department at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health states that this area  will see the emergence of public health leaders through education, research, and service programs. The public health leaders can rise to professional positions in the complex and changing healthcare environment. They can help to produce a more equitable and more efficient health system on a global scale.

Maternal and Child Health
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that neonatal mortality accounts for almost 40 per cent of the estimated 9.7 million children under-five deaths and for nearly 60 per cent of infant (under-one) deaths. A common factor in these deaths is the health of the mother. Therefore, the main aim of a public health leader in the field of maternal and child health, would be to promote and protect the health and well-being of women, newborns, and their families.

Nutrition Sciences
Public health nutrition applies the physiological, biochemical, and behavioural aspects of nutrition on human health. University of Washington, School of Public Health says that as a public health nutritionist one can explore many professional channels. These include nutrition-centered health promotion, disease prevention, design and management of community-wide nutrition programs. clinical dietetics, and private sector practice.

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