I believe in public health – the intangible, unrecognized, pervasiveness of public health.
My belief took root my senior year of college, in my health economics class. We were discussing how the economy is affected by the health of its people, because sick people can’t work, and therefore they can’t contribute to the economy. I started thinking about my recent time in South Africa and how the development of a nation is tied to how healthy its citizens are. What happens to your country if 25% of your adult population is dying from HIV/AIDS? How can these countries possibly succeed?
It seemed to me that if people were healthy then they were at least able to school or go to work, and so health was going to pretty important to the development and political stability in these countries. When I read the headlines today about political transitions in Zimbabwe and the on-going cholera epidemic, I wonder how these opposing forces will be reconciled in this a Battle of Wills versus Ills. Public health has transformed the way in which I view the world. I see it everywhere. I can wake up in the morning, turn on the tap and have safe, clean running water that has fluoride to protect my teeth. I can flush the toilet and keep my bathroom and home sanitary. I can eat food that is safe (well, most of the time), and take public transportation to work in the city where I live. Without public health, I might walk hours to get a bucket of water that is contaminated with pesticides or bacteria. The food that I eat might make me sick, so that I have to miss work or am unable to take care of my family. And without a good public transportation system, I might have to drive to work which would add to the threat of global warming. My life would look very different.
What I have learned about public health is that it is founded on the idea of working toward the “common good.” Sometimes I like to think it’s a type of social justice – a great equalizer, allowing us the opportunity to thrive. Personally, I appreciate the idea that immunizing people keeps me from being sick with measles. Air quality standards mean that I can run outside, and when the FDA is doing a good job, I can eat all the spinach and peanut butter I want.
Public health is a provider of opportunity, stability, and potential. When I think about what the world needs to function, to move forward, to survive – I think of public health. I have overheard someone say that the problem with getting people to understand public health is that “no news is good news” in this field. When everyone does his or her job right in the public health world, there are no CNN headlines, no Salmonella outbreaks, and no safety recalls. There is no drama – just people going about their everyday lives, healthy and safe.
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