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What is Public Health?

The Institute of Medicine defines public health as: "A coordinated effort at the local, state, and federal levels whose mission is fulfilling society's interest in assuring conditions in which people can be healthy."

As the world continues to change and our knowledge of various health-related complexities expands, public health faces new and more complex challenges.

In simpler times, the work of public health was limited to maintaining basic sanitary living conditions and preventing the spread of communicable diseases. When the (Ohio) State Board of Health was created in 1886, its primary work was to help coordinate the fight against tuberculosis.

Today, public health professionals must cope with an ever-expanding group of newly recognized diseases such as E-coli, cyclospora, cryptosporidium, Hanta virus and Ebola. At the same time, illnesses once conquered through the use of antibiotics and other therapies are re-emerging as public health threats by becoming resistant to the very treatments once used to defeat them.

As society continues to change, the challenges facing public health will continue to become more complex -- and important -- to improving the lives of individuals, families and entire communities.

These challenges will include:

  • Providing public health leadership to communities.
  • Educating people on ways to reduce their risk of disease.
  • Collecting, analyzing and reporting data on health status and disease indicators.
  • Identifying and correcting unhealthy or unsafe conditions in the workplace or home.
  • Improving behaviors that directly or indirectly lead to poor health, injury or violence.
  • Promoting policies to assure access to quality health care.
  • Addressing the threat of outbreaks brought on by nuclear, biologic and chemical events.
  • Addressing health care disparities due to age, race, quality of life, services, access, and systems.
  • Addressing the impact of chronic diseases on health costs and quality of life.
  • Addressing possible gaps in regulation of health care.

The Ohio Department of Health will continue to be at the center of these efforts. Working in partnership with 117 county and city health departments, it will continue to provide much needed public health leadership and services throughout the state.