Senior Assistant Professor
Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies,
affiliated to Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha
Definition, Concept and Development
Great public health movements had already started in mid-nineteenth
century by Edwin Chadwick in UK (report on an inquiry into the sanitary
conditions of the labouring population in great Britain, 1842) and around
the same time in USA in 1850 by Lemuel Shattuck (Report of the
sanitary commission of Massachusetts).
These two reports initiated that brilliant movement - now known as
public health, of which preventive medicine is an essential component
and which has been responsible for saving billions of human lives and
reducing human suffering during the last 100 years.
State of Public Health
In developing countries not even one percent of the total
national budget is spent on public health; the situation, even in
the developed countries is no better. For example, even in USA,
just about 1% of the nation’s total health spending go towards
In 1992, when the average cost of medical treatment was
$3,007 for each American, the amount spent on public health
was only $ 34 per person (3) !
Public health including preventive medicine, as a concept and
as a science, has been a major force in furthering the cause of
human health and development.
During the 20th century, many lives have been saved and
diseases prevented by simple public health measures as safe
water supply, sanitary excreta disposal, vaccination and insect-
This gain has come from improvements in public health, broadly
defined to include better housing, nutrition, sanitation,
immunization and occupational safety.
In public health, problems are named within the context of the
community as a whole rather than occurring in a series of
individuals. This view leads to the establishment of priorities and
permits rational choices on the use of resources.
Over the years, the unique feature of public health has been
acknowledged to be “Organized Community Effort” and
“Systematic Social Action”.
Classical definition of public health, which has stood the test of
time, is the one forwarded by CEA Winslow (11) as :
“The science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and
promoting physical health and efficiency through organized
community efforts for the sanitation of the environment, the control
of community infections, the education of the individual in principles
of personal hygiene, the organization of medical and nursing
services for the early diagnosis and preventive treatment of
diseases and the development of social machinery which will
ensure to every individual, in the community, a standard of living
adequate for maintenance of health”.
Thus public health is best identified as a social movement concerned
with protecting and promoting the collective health of the community.
Thus, the province of public health is by no means limited to
prevention. While mostly public health activities are funded and
regulated by the Governments (National or State), the work of
voluntary health agencies is also a part of public health activities
since they represent an organized community effort and systematic
Even a small movement by a small village to purify their drinking
water source or to stop alcohol drinking is also very much a public
As has been very aptly stated by Mustard
“A health problem becomes a public health responsibility if, or when, it
is of such character or extent as to be amenable to solution only
through systematized social action”.
Preventive Medicine versus Public
Preventive medicine is an overall science, public health is an
approach within this science. When preventive medicine starts
focusing on population groups rather than individuals and utilises
the approach of ‘organised community efforts” it takes the shape of
The other approach of using preventive medicine is the
“individualized” preventive medicine, for instance, immunising. On
the other hand when the government or even a Non Governmental
Organization (NGO) working with community members in a village,
organises a cervical cancer screening camp, the approach
becomes that of public health.
It is apparent that any effort at preventing or curing the disease
or making an assessment of the health problems has to take
social factors into account as poverty, ignorance, overcrowding,
malnutrition and so on.. This is, in essence, the concept of social
Subsequently, the concepts of social medicine merged with
preventive medicine, to form the specialty of preventive & social
The considered decision was that preventive medicine should
essentially combine the social aspects of health and disease in
its theory, practice and teaching.
Community medicine, as an approach, has borrowed heavily from the concepts,
methods and approaches of its two elder sisters, viz. public health and preventive
Community medicine is one pathway for representing an institution’s commitment to
improving health of its immediate (or adopted) community - generally a medical
college, hospital or a clinical department serve as the base.
The health task is to define the health problems, propose solutions, maintain
surveillance, evaluate progress and monitor the use of resources. The approaches
employed range from tools of epidemiology to the social skills, necessary for
involvement with the community.
Many hospitals also established department of community medicine to bring together
responsibility for the professional direction and coordination of programs in OPD and
emergency, personal health, outreach satellite elements and other services.
Role of Public Health
Assessment of Health Status & Health Needs: For making
assessments of health status and health needs and to reach a
“community diagnosis”, with the ultimate objective of formulating
health policies and planning appropriate health services.
Development of Health Policies
Assurance of the Availability and Quality of Health Services
Core Principles Underlying Public
Public health specialist must develop the mental attitude to adopt these core
principles in her activities:
Collective responsibility for health.
Protecting and promoting the public’s health.
A focus on whole populations and not on individuals.
An emphasis on prevention, especially primary prevention
A concern for underlying socio-economic determinants of health and disease
A multi-disciplinary basis; the readiness to work, in a team, with different and
diverging disciplines concerned with human health and development.
Attitude to incorporate qualitative and quantitative methods, in the area of work.
Components of Primary Health Care
There are eight essential components :
(a) Education about common health problems and what can be done to prevent and
(b) Maternal and child health care, including family planning;
(c) Promotion of proper nutrition;
(d) Immunization against major infectious diseases;
(e) An adequate supply of safe water;
(f) Basic sanitation;
(g) Prevention and control of locally endemic diseases;
(h) Appropriate treatment for common diseases and injuries.
Core Activities of Public Health
1) Protecting the environment, food and water.
2) Promoting healthy behaviour through information, education and communication.
3) Assessing needs, making community diagnosis and monitoring the health status of
the population/ community being served.
4) Leading to the development of sound health policy and planning.
5) Health programme management and management of other medical & health care
systems (health care system includes the triad of personal medical care, public health
care and other inter-sectoral initiatives related to health).
6) Preventing and investigating epidemics and maintaining surveillance on important
diseases, to provide early warning.
7) Promoting the health and efficiency of the “workers” and protecting the
8) Effectively responding to disasters.
9) Mobilizing community action.
10) Research to develop new insights and innovative solutions for relevant
community health problems.
11) Reaching out to link the health services with the high risk,
disadvantaged and hard to reach people (socioeconomically weaker
sections, hilly, tribal and inaccessible areas), or those requiring special
attention (women, children and old people).
12) Assuring the availability, accessibility, quality and accountability of
Aspects of Public Health
● Clear differentiation of aspects considered to be clearly the
responsibility of the state or community vis-à-vis those which were
clearly the responsibility of the individual.
●● Application of concepts of inter-sectoral coordination with
greater appreciation of fields other than medicine like engineering,
social sciences, economics, religion, etc in their contribution to
provision of health and prevention of disease.
●● Provision of public health services considered to be above
politics with claims of high moral ground by the proponents of public
History of Public Health
The Greeks encouraged healthy living and pursued regimens of exercise and
hygiene such as those prescribed by Hippocrates in his Regimen and
Regimen in Acute Diseases (4th century BC). Patients visiting the temples of
the god of healing, Aesculapius, were encouraged to take part in exercise, but
the temples were, again, not part of a public health system.
There was some development of public health by the Minoans, a
Mediterranean civilization that flourished on Crete about 3000-1050 BC. The
Minoans built baths and constructed channels to supply clean water and
remove waste. However, these facilities were lost when the Minoan civilization
However, the scale of the public health system introduced by the Roman
Empire from around 300 BC was without precedent in the Western world
Ancient India and Public Health
Ancient Indian thoughts, philosophy developed on concepts of spirituality.
Ayurveda is the ancient science of life. It lays down the principles of
management in health and disease and the code of conduct for the
Charaka has described the objective of medicine as two fold; preservation of
good health and combating disease.
Ayurveda emphasised the need for healthy lifestyle, including cleanliness
and purity, good diet, proper behaviour and mental and physical discipline.
Purity and cleanliness were to be observed in everything : jalasuddi (pure
water), aharasuddi (clean food), dehasuddi (clean body), manasuddi (pure
mind) and desasuddi (clean environment).
The earliest protagonists of Indian Medicine, such as Atreya,
Kashyapa, Bhela, Charaka and Susruta have based their
writings on the foundations of spiritual philosophy and ethics.
Charaka Samhita prescribes an elaborate code of conduct.
The ruins of ancient civilizations like Mohenjadaro and Harrappa
show intricate water and sullage disposal systems. It can hence
be assumed that sanitation played a major part in planning of
Public Health in developed countries
Revolves around three main aspects :
●● Response to an epidemic situation
●● As a regulatory or ‘police’
●● As a means to provide improvement or better life