It is extraordinary to be living at this time in history when “public health” is in the lexicon of everyday language. Barbers were considered to be fair surgeons and dentists and acted as the first physicians until the advent of hospitals. Flush toilets were not introduced to homes until the 1880s at the earliest, and it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that there was a vaccine for the plague (which had previously killed over a third of Europe’s population, or 25 million people). History was no doubt a dangerous and messy place. Today, no matter your culture, continent, economic status, or even your personal and professional interests, public health is something you are aware of, sometimes painfully so. The impacts of the COVID-19 global public health disaster have not been forgotten, but a bright spot is that from caring and passion, comes action. It’s inspiring to see how public health policy saves lives, and we’ve all witnessed it in our lifetime. Masking, social distancing, vaccinations, and travel bans, are all examples of public health policies enforced and encouraged by governments worldwide that allowed the pandemic to cease its relentless impacts on our society. If you’re considering becoming a public health professional and would like to work on policy, these examples of public health policies you can be part of will surely convince you to jump right in.
In March 2010, Congress signed into law a comprehensive healthcare reform called the Affordable Care Act. The purpose of the ACA was to make insurance available to people previously unable to meet the financial demands of an insurance policy—for example, people at or below the federal poverty level. The Medicaid program was expanded in many states and innovations at the marketplace level were made to lower healthcare costs. 20 million Americans gained healthcare coverage, which is nothing short of a revolution. Over a decade later, the delivery of affordable healthcare in the United States is still an intense issue for lawmakers, healthcare providers, activists, insurance planners, and healthcare policy researchers and writers. Healthcare is an enormous cost to the United States Federal Government, as well as to American individuals. The fate of the ACA is often left in the hands of political leadership when budget crises emerge. There is much work to be done to retain protections for people with pre-existing health conditions, people with disabilities, children, prescription drug recipients, opioid treatment recipients, and mental health care patients. Public health policy professionals can find dynamic work on affordable healthcare delivery policies at the local, state, and federal levels.
In the United States today, it’s easy to go about your business, and with the jiggle of your wrist on a metal handle, forget about it. Waste wasn’t always so out of sight and mind! In many countries, lack of sanitation is still a human rights violation. Proper sanitation management systems, meaning the handling of wastewater, garbage, and drinking water, are a harbinger of a country’s prosperity, directly impacting the health and economic mobility of citizens. The United Nations endeavors to meet world sanitation and hygiene targets such as eliminating open defecation by 2030, but there are still 2 billion people who lack access to safe drinking water at home. Sanitation reform takes government leadership, partnered with engineers, and health researchers, not to mention enormous funding sources.
There are a multitude of examples of public health policies and ways to contribute to the maintenance and improvement of the sanitation sector in the US, as a leader in public health. For example, these areas will continue to require attention:
- Developing governance in collaboration with health and infrastructure regulators.
- Innovating for more efficient systems, climate change impacts, and city sprawl.
- Collecting data to improve delivery mechanisms.
- Expanding to better address the needs of rural populations.
Sanitation standards and requirements don’t just need enforcement on the federal level, but also at the business level. For example, OSHA puts forth specific restroom requirements for employers, which is an example of a public health policy that must be met, otherwise, employers can face fines and other repercussions.
Did you know that epidemics like the plague, cholera, and smallpox were thought to be caused by poor morals? With little scientific understanding of disease contagion theory, people in previous centuries had few explanations for why they were sick and how to get better. However, some precautions were taken to manage disease spread throughout history. Quarantine was practiced as early as the middle ages, when ships were forced to float off-shore before their return to Europe, to prevent the spread of diseases. Beaked masks, robes, and a cane, while unsettling when they showed up on your doorstep, were worn by doctors in the 1600s and 1700s in Europe to keep a barrier and distance from infected Black Death patients. Today, with the development of epidemiology, we have examples of epidemic and disaster management public health policymakers and enforcers, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, and the National Association of Health Data Organizations, amongst many others. Working in health policy for a government, nonprofit, or nongovernmental agency, specifically on keeping communities healthy under extreme influences like infections, and even non-disease-related epidemics such as drug overdose deaths, is fulfilling and necessary. As history tends to repeat, it is doubtful that the COVID-19 pandemic will be the last of its kind to surface. There is much evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid epidemic are interrelated, and in the US, policy actions included expanding Telehealth and easing restrictions around dispensing opioid treatment programs including the use of Buprenorphine.
Civil law and public health policy are often closely interconnected. A horrifying statistic in the realm of women’s and maternal health is that homicide is a leading cause of death among pregnant and postpartum women in the United States. The perpetrator is almost always an intimate partner with a firearm. An academic study between 2011-2019 showed that amongst the states that prohibit perpetrators of domestic violence from possessing firearms, there was a significant reduction in pregnant and postpartum victims. This striking example of a public health policy demonstrates how health and public safety professionals, including law enforcement and lawmakers, can have an enormous impact on the quality of life and domestic safety across the United States. Relatedly, youth violence prevention policies can help young people cope with mental health challenges and steer people away from obtaining firearms and taking violent action. Violence is officially deemed a public health crisis, and more communication, research, and policy-building are essential to curb its effects.
A Master’s in Public Health is the route for individuals who don’t want to watch idly while our public health infrastructure deteriorates or people have their healthcare options eliminated. They don’t want to see us succumb to sanitation issues, epidemics or violence in our nation, or at home. They want to continue to innovate how we live and work and to improve our relationship with our natural environment. These are just a few examples of how you can earn an MPH to make a difference in public health policy in your community, your state, or your nation. To learn more, request more information, or call Goodwin University today at 800-889-3282.