As our society deals with COVID-19 and many other issues related to the health and well-being of our nation, we often find ourselves in controversy about how to characterize, research and reach positive outcomes regarding public health.
Perhaps it may be helpful to define public health. It is known as “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private communities, and individuals.”
Some of the roles of public health include the following functions.
- Monitor health status to identify and solve community health problems
- Diagnose and investigate health problems and health hazards in the community
- Inform, educate, and empower people about health issues
- Mobilize community partnerships and action to identify and solve health problems
- Develop policies and plans that support individual and community health efforts
- Enforce laws and regulations that protect health and ensure safety
- Link people to needed personal health services and assure the provision of health care when otherwise unavailable
- Assure competent public and personal health care workforce
- Evaluate effectiveness, accessibility, and quality of personal and population-based health services
- Research for new insights and innovative solutions to health problems
Furthermore, we reach our conclusions about public health through these steps of surveillance:
Reporting. Someone has to record the data.
Data accumulation. Someone has to be responsible for collecting the data from all the reporters and putting it all together.
Data analysis. Someone has to look at the data to calculate rates of disease, changes in disease rates, etc.
Judgment and action.
Recently much of our current debate over public health issues have become politicized. Concerns like COVID-19 prevention methods, vaccines, mental health, addictions, and mass shootings need to be approached as public health issues because these topics are a matter of life and death. If we seriously consider the role of public healthcare professionals, their mission is to prevent these issues, promote health through research, empower and educate us and do what is necessary to promote recovery and strategies for improved health.
Their methods need to be empirical and are necessarily labor intensive so that we can come to wise judgement and action. It is essential that they be allowed to function without political agendas, criticism, second-guessing and negative assumptions that are made prior to the completion of their research and data analysis. When we are dealing with such critical and serious issues, we dare not critique, question or suggest non-supported conclusions until the true work is done without bias and with the highest level of integrity.
As we consider matters that are life-threatening, I believe we should allow public health officials to complete their research, manage their roles, reach responsible decisions and find the best suggestions to implement public health policies. It is then the role of politicians and our other systems to establish laws, policies and practices to implement that which public health officials have established as necessary to promote health and recovery of our public health dilemmas.
It is my hope that we can soon reorder our methods and allow our scientists and public health officials to do their job and provide us with research and action steps. Then we all can support and work together to do what is best for our children, our families and our communities. I would hope we could allay the confusion, stay in our respective lanes and find a way to join together to create a healthier, trustworthy and unified country.