With the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have struggled to deal with the global health crisis in terms of their public health system and infrastructure.
To begin with, it is important to clearly understand what public health entails. It is a multidisciplinary field that focusses on population-based disease prevention and health promotion through organized community interventions. Public health is different from healthcare although some people use the two terms interchangeably.
Healthcare focusses on treating illnesses in separate individuals (patients) while public health focusses on population-based health interventions that prevent, and control health problems as well as promote community health.
Public health efforts are achieved by assessing and monitoring health status of a population, diagnosing health problems and developing actions/policies that solve those identified problems.
Most of the times, public health roles seem to be more recognized only when there is a public health crisis but after such passes, the required funds and resources to help assess, monitor, plan and prepare for health threats drastically diminish, if not vanish. COVID-19 clearly demonstrates that scenario. Many countries were not adequately prepared for the emergence of the novel coronavirus which resulted in many illnesses and deaths that could have been preventable. Countries with a strong public health infrastructure were better prepared and equipped with relevant resources, had better trained and competent staff, and were able to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 compared with many other countries.
Public Health Achievements
Although public health roles and activities mostly receive less than deserved attention and resources, it has achieved major improvement to population health which include, but not limited to clean air, clean water, effective sanitation, safer foods, injury and diseases control and prevention, etc.
It is not only during a health crisis that public health efforts should be recognized because they always work behind the scenes assessing, monitoring, analyzing health problems and developing policies. There is therefore need to prioritize and support it by adequately providing required resources to develop preparedness plans for imminent public health threats.
Compiled by Thuku Njenga, MPH, MHA, Epidemiologist