July 31, 2013
Who decides what health services are needed and which are unnecessary? Public health officials investigate the needs of a population in order to bridge health inequities. But there are multiple kinds of needs. During Dr. Anees Pari’s lecture on public health, I realized that performing a Health Needs Assessment on a population is quite a complex matter.
When you go to your doctor with a problem, you may find that what you’re expecting and what your doctor recommends are different. You may want to take drugs to quickly fix what is wrong, while your physician may recommend lifestyle changes to make a longer lasting health improvement. These represent different needs. Felt need is what you feel like you need, while normative need is what professionals would recommend. Public health officials have a job that tries to match up needs, demand, and supply. Locally, nationally, and globally, this can be a difficult issue to tackle.
In current times, developed countries often give aid to developing countries. For example, outsiders would bring in polio vaccines to Nigeria. Polio is a viral, infectious disease that is nearly eradicated. However, a stigma about the vaccines arose, with leaders claiming that the vaccines actually served to sterilize Nigerian Muslims. In this case, the supply and normative need are present, but the people of Nigeria rejected it. As a result, people end up infected with a disease that most of the world does not have to worry about anymore.
Public health challenges exist locally as well. In Dr. Pari’s lecture, we participated in an activity where we acted as public health officials in California counties. Specifically, we discussed how to assess the health needs of recently released prisoners. Not only did we come up with the prisoners’ possible needs (eg. mental health care and housing), but we also determined who the stakeholders were. I hadn’t thought of some of the stakeholders—lay people from the neighborhood where the prisoners are being released, local businesses that could hire the ex-inmates, and former prisoners were among the stakeholders brought up. Next, we came up with a plan of action that included measures like distributing surveys and getting data from the Census Bureau. We performed this activity in a short amount of time, but I understand now that the public health officials who perform Health Needs Assessments in real life have a daunting task that involves cooperation among many groups of people.
Throughout this class, I’ve learned details of public health that I hadn’t considered before. Public health needs to be addressed at multiple levels of organization – local, national, and global. I can believe how much of a necessity public health is in my own community. I come from a suburban area, San Jose, and attend university at USC, near an urban environment. Even the health needs between these two parts of California can be very different, and need to be assessed carefully in order to bridge the gap between health outcomes, which is why I believe the field of public health is so important. In order to take preventative measures and encourage healthy behavior for entire populations, extensive information, insight, and empathy are needed.
Melissa Ling is a junior from San Jose, California, majoring in Biological Sciences and minoring in Public Health. She is determined to become a physician and work to reduce health inequities in the US.