Stories about health issues appear in our newspapers almost every day but each of us will read the information differently, putting our own slant on both the story and its evidence. Inevitably, any use we make of the story will be unique too.
A story about 'public health' in Australia is no different. For some people, public health means public hospitals or publicly funded health services. For others, it refers to the control of infectious diseases or to the management of environmental health hazards, or to a set of programs aimed at disease prevention. The term may even provoke a sense of frustration in a person who has tried unsuccessfully to achieve a simple change that would have made their local community a healthier place to live.
We have chosen the title of this book, Public health practice in Australia: The organised effort, because we want to focus on what public health practitioners do, and to highlight some common threads that underlie all the seemingly disparate activities, ideas and entities included in the notion of public health. Our use of the term 'public health' refers to the social enterprise concerned with assuring the conditions in society that enable people to maintain and improve their health.
We are also focusing on the 'effort' involved in improving the health of the public. While others have written about and debated the concept of public health, and how to think about public health, we give emphasis to the 'doing' of public health. As we hope our book will demonstrate, the effort that is organised to achieve and sustain public health requires considerable knowledge, skill and wisdom. It is an effort that requires the contribution of many people and has been called both a science and an art form.
Public health, as a field, has evolved over time, in terms of the priority issues that attract attention and the common practices adopted by its practitioners. It encompasses legislation and public policies, health services and community action which protect communities from a variety of health risks, prevent