Written by Aparajeya Shanker
Public Health Policy is a wide-ranging aspect of public health that guides the government’s action plan on population health. To simplify what is essentially a vast and complex subject, it is the sum of all legislative and expert guidelines on maintaining a careful balance between action and prevention in regard to health.
Public Health Policy, and policy, in general, has faced a major setback since the dawn of the 21st Century. The resistance to the perceived intrusion of policy was one of the major causes of Brexit, and with the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Accords, the general public’s perception of policy is that of excessive bureaucracy and the developmental stagnation.
It is indeed very easy to forget that much of the advances in modern medicine – which have resulted in longer life spans – improved outcomes in both diagnosis and treatment, and that the general improvement of health stems from the continuous work of Public Health Policy throughout the years. People live longer, are less prone to infection and better manage their illness through improved medication and therapy. The eradication of diseases like Polio and Smallpox through massive immunization drives is a concrete example of the effectiveness of Public Health Policy.
The less obvious effects of effective Public Health Policy lie in the myriad different ways in which Public Health manifests itself through Occupational Safety, Disaster Medicine and the preparedness of nations and governments for biological and chemical attacks. The emphasis on the promotion of health and the regulation of industries has contributed to the general improvement in the quality of life.
However, this does not detract from the fact that the avenues of improvement are wide. The resurgence of anti-vaccination movements across Europe, Ukraine, Russia and the United States is a cause for concern. So is the recent resurgence in the disregard for Climate Change and the effects of antibiotic resistance. This begs the question as to how Public Health Policy, in its wide range of application and not without its own challenges in the 21st century, will aid us in the resolution of these problems.
The answer to this question lies in history. Semmelweis, the father of aseptic technique, revolutionized medicine and the understanding of the improvement of sterility by introducing a very simple procedure: All doctors and medical students must wash their hands before and after assisting in the delivery of newborns. This simple observation and procedure drastically reduced mortality rates and paved the way for safer surgery. Small changes in procedure often have an enormous impact.
Public Health Policy has a deep impact on individual health. For instance, the reason behind Polio being a disease of the past lies in the strong policy on immunization adopted by the World Health Organization. Thus, our answer in dealing with the most pressing issues of the 21st Century lies not in viewing Public Health Policy as an esoteric and distant branch of the legislative process, but in viewing it as having the great impact it does on simple, everyday concerns of life, whether that is being able to breathe clean air every morning, or understanding that a routine visit to the doctor for your children can guarantee that they can lead long, healthy and productive lives.
Aparajeya Shanker is a medical student, currently studying at medical university of Pleven, Bulgaria. He is deeply interested in the complexities of public health and its interplay with policy. it is his firm belief that health should be a priority in international policy and he hopes that his medical experience, both as a medical student and as a researcher on public health, will aid him in providing an invaluable insight into the current issues surrounding public health in Europe and around the world.