Daily Archives: June 3, 2021

The Failure of Public Health to Define Health

Health is an intangible state of mind where infirmity and illness are absent. There are various definitions used for such concept. According to some people’s health means “excess of everything good”. According to the other definition health is “a complete absence of anything bad”. The third meaning believes health to be a state of harmony and peacefulness that is achieved through bodily repose.


In all three definition health is associated with absence of illness and suffering. Some definitions perceive health as a state or condition caused by the presence of something. Disease is another definition that implies the presence of something non-healthy. This can also include the absence of disease causing organisms. When illness occurs there is a certain cause, either viral bacterial, fungal or genetic.

The absence of disease causing organisms is viewed as the cause of any absence of health. The absence of all disease producing microorganisms in an environment implies a total absence of health. It is clear that the absence of disease producing organisms results in the absence of health. This is a very powerful concept and it has a tremendous power to affect people. To illustrate the tremendous power of this concept let us consider cancer.

Cancer is an infirmity that has no cure and is caused by an invasion of microorganisms into the body. Microorganisms can multiply uncontrollably and cause an imbalance in the chemical composition of the body. They also invade tissues and cells and form tumors, which when left untreated are progressive and reach a stage of terminal in effect. It is inevitable that cancer will kill the person if the treatment is not commenced at an early stage. Without exception, people who have cancer and have no access to medical treatment are regarded as poor health.

No doubt, the absence of disease is not the cause of illness but it can be used to explain the fact that absence of illness is not the indicator of good health. What is needed is an approach that considers the totality of a person and takes into consideration his physical, emotional, spiritual, social, psychological and other aspects. Such an approach can be termed as defining health. In such a situation, it will be easy to say that absence of illness is not the cause of absence of health but rather a pre-requisite for healthy living.

Defining health is a concept that must be inculcated in all institutions responsible for the well being of human beings. Without the concept of healthy life style, the control over diseases would be impossible. In fact, it is ironic that public health educators are themselves infected with the idea of promoting healthy lifestyles when they themselves are guilty of promoting unhealthy modes of living. To prevent the resurgence of such ill concepts, public health needs to put a halt to its unhealthy trend in all areas of its work.