Science Now + Beyond

8 ways that public health either saved your life or made it better

My journey towards public health began in my years as an undergraduate. I took courses in sociology which helped me realize how public health was not this huge daunting thing but instead a combination of medicine and the social structure that influences health. Throughout my career in the sector, I noticed that people outside of public health did not understand why it was so important.

So here are 8 quick reasons why you should care about public health.

1. 50 years of tobacco control measures so your lungs don’t look like this

smoker lungs GIF
[Image Description: A gif of a pink lug, versus a black lung from smoking and tobacco.] via Giphy
Countries who have invested in anti-smoking campaigns have seen significant decreases. Surprisingly, the first anti-smoking campaign was in Nazi Germany which I’m still not sure how to feel about. Although many countries are now taking action to cut down on smoking, we still have a long way to go because tobacco companies have now found their new homes in poorer countries where they are welcomed with open arms.

2. Maintaining safe drinking water

water smile GIF
[Image Description: A gif of a man drinking water, and having it come down his mouth.] via Giphy
Ever heard of the quote “water is the new oil?” Access to clean drinking water remains a luxury for many, and that means plenty of preventable illnesses, such as diarrhea, typhoid, and cholera, are still causing unnecessary deaths. Weak sanitation systems combined with water scarcity makes drinking water a commodity that we should never take for granted.

 3. Reducing your consumption of inhumane amounts of soda

soda GIF
[Image Description: A gif of Leslie Knope and Anne Perkins talking to an employee of a soda company about the ridiculousness of their soda sizes for children in “Parks and Recreation”] via Giphy
You know you are a public health nerd when the decrease in soda sales makes you smile profusely. The ridiculous amounts of sugar, caffeine, and sodium lead to some of the most preventable chronic health conditions. The bad news is that just like tobacco companies, soda companies are moving to countries who do not have an obesity epidemic – at least not yet.

4. Protecting you from zombie apocalypse-like outbreaks and containing them

the daily show anxiety GIF
[Image Description: John Stewart in a hazmat suit, spraying himself with disinfectant as he talks about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that barely impacted Americans that freaked out about it.] via Giphy
This one makes me realize that people seem to notice public health after an emergency response to a disease outbreak such as the West Africa Ebola outbreak and the Zika virus. It is precisely how public health started in the first place. The father of modern epidemiology, John Snow (not from Game of Thrones), discovered the source of the 1854 London cholera outbreak through unpopular ideas of the time.

5. Promoting oral rehydration solution (ORS) for diarrhea

diarrhea GIF
[Image Description: A gif from the King’s Speech, when Colin Firth screams out “shit” to help him get over his stammer.] via Giphy
Too many, especially infants and young children, still die from diarrhea. Lack of access to unclean drinking water makes it worse. However, most forms of diarrhea are treatable with a mixture of salt, sugar, and water – Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS).  For that reason, public health workers are on the ground to help create awareness in communities.

6. Providing you with the tools for safe sex

mean girls teen vogue GIF
[Image Description: A gif of the gym coach from “Mean Girls’ teaching teens about sex. He talks here about chlamydia and tells the students they will die.] via Giphy
Prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy are a crucial part of the public health identity. Education about safe sex is no easy task, and too many people clearly lack the proper knowledge despite Google existing. Unfortunately, educating people, especially teens, about safe sex remains a taboo worldwide because of the concern that it will only encourage promiscuity – which has never been proven.

7. Getting women to breastfeed their babies

melinda gates breastfeeding GIF by Robin Eisenberg
[Image Description: A gif of a mother breastfeeding her child throughout the day.] via Giphy
Regardless of whether or not you are a mother, more countries are pushing towards exclusive breastfeeding again. And for good reason. Breastfeeding is crucial to a baby’s development in the first six months of its life, and saves lives by preventing disease. Unfortunately, in the US and other countries, there is not enough support exists for breastfeeding.

8. Vaccination Coverage. Enough Said.

power Vaccines GIF
[Image Description: A gif of a series of graphs that show what increased vaccination does to reduce infections in a population, leading to herd immunity.] via Giphy
The anti-vaccination movement has thrived on a lack of understanding how vaccinations help create herd immunity.  Vaccination helps assure that your fellow humans who are immunocompromised do not contract a lethal infection. While your child may be fine, that does not mean everyone else’s is.

The next time you hear of a decision-maker trying to slash public health budgets, on any level, you should care. Because public health works.

By Saba Danawala

Writing yogi and traveler immersed in all issues public health and social justice. Transplanted to Pakistan by way of DC, New Delhi, and Texas. Seasoned in the game of questioning systematic gender and social norms. Pragmatically idealizes a world populated with more self-aware and empathetic human beings.