In recent times, there has been an increasing interest in and need to view health in a holistic context. Today, more than ever in human history, we are extremely conscious and concerned about the state of human health.
The constitution of the World Health Organisation (1979) provides direction and strategy for the future. It broadly defines health as 'a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity'. This definition implies a more fundamental principle that 'The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition'. The establishment of such a right is the responsibility of government. This manifesto concludes that: 'Governments have a responsibility for the health of their peoples which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures'.
Although this framework is quite clear, the dominant perspective of medicine continues to rely heavily on physical aspects of the body. It is well documented that the role of modern medicine in improving health and extending life has been exaggerated (Davis and George, 1993; Russell and Schofield, 1986).
The expansion of medical technologies, services and practitioner roles has undoubtedly been associated with significant health benefits for individuals. Effective surgery, antibiotics, and the relief of distressing symptoms during the course of an illness are primary among these. However, the contribution of medicine as a whole to the general health of the population has been oversold (Russell and Schofield, 1986:146).
There is a substantial body of knowledge to support the idea that medical care (and even health care as conventionally defined) makes relatively little contribution to health compared with the potential contribution of broader social and cultural conditions.
A society has a clear obligation to protect its citizens, in so far as it is possible to do so, from environmental pollution, occupational hazards, infectious disease and other preventable causes of illness, dis-ease or disability. A society is also responsible for providing for basic human needs, such as food, shelter, clothing