In most developed nations around the world, public health is something we take for granted. While the services and policies of public health organizations may vary significantly from country to country, the premise behind a public health system is fairly standard. Public health systems strive to ensure that the community they serve has access to required health resources and that threats to the health of the public are monitored and prevented.

Most of us understand this basic premise about public health. But, here are some facts about public health you might not know. Now’s a good time to test yourself on your knowledge of how public health systems work.

  1. Public health systems are typically divided into three major categories: epidemiology, biostatistics and health services. The health services arena is the one most of us are most familiar with.
  2. Subfields of these major categories include environmental, social, behavioral and occupational health are subfields of the major categories.
  3. The focus of public health intervention should always be the prevention of disease before the treatment of it.
  4. The UN’s World Health Organization is the world’s most recognized health organization that seeks to improve public health throughout the world.
  5. The head of the public health system in the US is the Surgeon General.
  6. In 2000, the US government spent $4500 per capita on public health.
  7. In contrast, in many African nations, government spending on public health is less than $10 per person.
  8. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia is one of the most widely recognized public health organizations. Many people do not realize that they work on health problems all over the world – not just US health problems.
  9. One of the earliest examples of a public health system was during the Roman times, when a system for disposing of diversion of human waste was developed in order to prevent the population from disease.
  10. One of the biggest accomplishments of worldwide public health programs is immunizations, and the eradication of diseases like polio because of immunization.
  11. One of the first examples of immunization came as early as 100 BC in China. Children were “inoculated” against smallpox by putting the pus from a lesion of an infected individual into a scratch on their arm to prevent them from contracting the disease.
  12. Another example of early public health programs was in the 14th century during the “Black Death” in Europe. Officials found that they could stem the spread of the disease by burning portions of the cities where infestations had been so prevalent. We now know that the disease was rodent borne. So, burning the cities killed off the infestations of rats that were spreading the disease.
  13. The idea of quarantining those with infectious diseases came about during the medieval period. This was also an early example of a public health measure.
  14. Even the development of regular garbage collection programs as cities grew is an example of a public health program. Scientists quickly discovered how dangerous garbage was to public health.
  15. One of the primary reasons that average life expectancy across much of the world has increased so dramatically in the last few years is the development of public health systems, which have brought vaccinations, public health departments and health education programs to the masses.
  16. Today’s public health departments focus their efforts on broadening public health’s reach through education in addition to the work they’ve always performed. For example, newer public health programs often educating the public about risky behaviors, such as obesity, alcoholism and unsafe sex. These programs seek to reduce the number of health issues related to behavior.

Public health systems, particularly how they vary throughout the world, are fascinating. It’ amazing to read about how some of the earliest developments in public health came about, and how these have grown into a worldwide system of protecting the public from health threats and preventing disease.

It’s certain that our public health systems are not perfect. And, in many countries, they are far from adequate in terms of meeting the needs of the public they serve. But, its still amazing to see how far the world has come in terms of understanding health problems and protecting the community from them.

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