Saudi Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences

: 2014  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 75--76

Public health: The birth of a new era

Hassan Bella 
 College of Medicine, University of Dammam, Dammam 31441, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Correspondence Address:
Hassan Bella
P.O. Box 1982, Dammam 31441, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

How to cite this article:
Bella H. Public health: The birth of a new era.Saudi J Med Med Sci 2014;2:75-76

How to cite this URL:
Bella H. Public health: The birth of a new era. Saudi J Med Med Sci [serial online] 2014 [cited 2020 Oct 27 ];2:75-76
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Traditionally, public health has been defined as "the science of protecting and improving the health of families and communities through education, health promotion of a healthy lifestyle, research for disease and injury prevention and detection and control of infectious diseases." [1] As it stands, this definition would be inadequate to accommodate the new phenomenon of man-made global warming and its possible complex health consequences. The definition could be expanded to include "addressing new global phenomena affecting health." If the current trend of global warming continues, it will result in disequilibrium in physical and biological ecosystems. It will then be "less-likely that human societies will be able to adapt without serious resultant consequences." [2]

Three public health revolutions have been noted; the first was addressing sanitary conditions and infection control; the second emphasized the "contribution of individual behavior to non-communicable diseases and premature death." The third revolution "recognizes health as a key dimension of quality of life." [3] The challenges posed by global warming and the expected significant ecological change would mark a fourth public health era. "Computer models indicate that many diseases will surge as the earth's atmosphere heats up; signs of the predicted troubles have begun to appear." [4] Complex social and political interventions would be necessary to safeguard the health of the public from deteriorating. One would anticipate new roles in public health education and practice.

Global public health is viewed as "a barometer of more developments." A global public health card has been proposed as "a simple way to assess progress and suggest actions by public health practitioners and their organizations for improving the effectiveness of public health." [5]

Global warming and its consequences is only one reason for giving more emphasis to public health. Traditionally and in many countries, medical and public health sectors were functioning separately. It is increasingly recognized that collaboration between the two sectors would be an effective strategy for improving health systems. It is anticipated that "collaboration between medicine and public health will create synergies with the power to improve access to care, enhance the quality and cost-effectiveness. This can be achieved by applying a population perspective to medical practice to identify and address community health problems." [6]

In Saudi Arabia, the focus in health policy is on health expenditure rather than investment on health. Health should be viewed as "a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living" as Ottawa Charter defines it. [7] There is a need to re-orient health policies to address health determinants. "Modern public health is investing more in health promotion and in health literacy than on other approaches." Although a genuine real need, preventive medicine, unlike curative care, does not represent a felt need for many even those in the medical profession. A big challenge for public health professionals in Saudi Arabia is to turn the real need for preventive care into a felt need. "Curative care needs are addressed by governments through building hospitals, training or employing skilled nurses and specialized physicians, but unfortunately that urgency is absent when the maintenance of health of the entire public is discussed. [8]

Having succeeded significantly in reducing morbidity and mortality from infectious and vaccine-preventable diseases, there are still big challenges for public health in Saudi Arabia. Obstinate problems include road traffic injuries, non-communicable diseases, obesity and tobacco smoking. In addition, there is still shortage of Saudi health professionals (especially in public health), changing pattern of disease, the high demand for service, and the endless public health challenges of Hajj; the largest mass gathering in the world that bring 2-3 million people to Saudi Arabia from 160 countries every year.


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