Activate Health: Why #PublicHealthMatters
As we kick off a new fiscal year, and implement our new three-year strategic plan, we’re excited about the opportunities ahead. One of these opportunities is continuing to educate and raise awareness about public health, and why it is extremely relevant to you, your family, and your community.
Canadian Public Health Week was held earlier this month, and for the first time it was also declared in British Columbia. The theme was #PublicHealthMatters, and it provided the opportunity to showcase the work and to acknowledge all the professionals who get up every day, especially during difficult times, to put public health first.
Though raising awareness is embedded in our work every day, there are two key campaigns we use to focus on public and population health: our Decoding Public Health series; and our Activate Health campaign.
The Decoding Public Health series allows us to raise awareness, educate, help break down concepts, simplify what can sometimes be a jargon-filled discipline, and get you excited about public health.
Activate Health is our call to action, our battle cry, for you to be an ambassador in your community. We call on you to raise awareness about how our individual actions can have a population-level impact and that by making choices or taking steps in our lives, we can create a ripple effect that can have positive outcomes on the health of the population—AKA population health.
But, what is public health anyway? And why do we differentiate between public health and population health?
One simple way to answer that is just to say that public health is the ‘work’ and population health is the ‘outcome.’ In other words, population health is the level at which we hope to see impact from the functions or actions of public health.
Public health functions include health protection, promotion, and prevention; preparedness and response; and surveillance and monitoring. These functions contribute to the public health sector and are distinct from our publicly-funded healthcare system in Canada. However, though distinct, the two systems do work in synergy, with public health focused on groups, communities, and populations, while healthcare primarily focuses on individuals. Both are clearly vital to society, but unfortunately with most investment going to the latter, we must continue to demonstrate why #PublicHealthMatters.
When we talk about population health, we’re also including the social determinants of health (SDOH) because there will never be a healthy population if we don’t consider all factors that contribute to health. One of the most fundamental and critical concepts in public health is equity. The work of public health is to address and find solutions for inequities that create systemic barriers for many in achieving good population health outcomes. For example, did you know that one’s gender is a major influencer of one’s health? Or that social isolation is a significant barrier that can lead to poorer health? We try to remove or lower those barriers.
One vital discipline within public health is health promotion. While there are a number of different models, one tenet of health promotion is that our place in the world influences our health. From the level of our beliefs, to public policy, to the environments we experience throughout our life stages, health is multi-factorial, intersectional, and not always about choice. Good health lives in our physical, mental, social, ecological, cultural, and spiritual environment.
When we think about the work of public health, prevention is probably the most easily understood mechanism through which we achieve improved health. Though prevention is a component, upstream is more nuanced. When we work ‘upstream,’ we’re taking action at the root cause of an issue, before it becomes an issue. Early childhood development, income, and housing are examples, but there are many more key examples. We encourage you to think of some to raise in conversations with your friends and family.
Social justice is a philosophy that everyone deserves equal rights and opportunities and is a fundamental prerequisite for health. This is paramount to public health. Because public health is mental health. Harm reduction and advancing solutions towards ending the Toxic Drug Poisoning Crisis is public health. Public health is gender rights. Public health is anti-Indigenous racism, truth, and reconciliation. Public health is the climate crisis. And so on.
#PublicHealthMatters more than ever, and it’s not just about pandemics. Much of our Decoding Public Health series was written pre-pandemic, but it remains true and stronger than ever as we transition into this new world that has been through immense turmoil. We must keep our focus on how critical it is for health overall and we cannot get lost in the noise that the pandemic seems to be leaving it’s in wake. We must understand the need for, and invest in, public health and we must work with our current leaders and experts, and train future generations to think differently about health.
While our Foundation works with our core partners across the health authorities and in government, we work for you, and for the health of everyone in BC. We strive for the healthy human and do that through partnerships and collaborations. Our three-year strategic plan includes a refreshed, aspirational vision—a healthier, safer, and more equitable future for all. Our five fundamental guiding principles ensure we’re grounding all our work in what matters to us, and to you.
We call on you to keep caring about public health. To think beyond pandemics, to see the broad scope. To ultimately understand the immense impact made when we focus our efforts, time, resources, and passion toward advancing population health every day. We encourage you to keep learning, following, and engaging with us. Get started by reading about how you can be a health ambassador this year. Drop a comment on our social media and tell us what you want to learn about! Because #PublicHealthMatters to us, and to you. This is Activate Health.