Historians can date the origins of the field of public health back to the 1700s, when the first hospitals opened to the public, or perhaps to the late 1800s, when the American Public Health Association was founded. Still, the field of public health has experienced massive development in just the past two decades.
Public health professionals provide a valuable and noble service to the masses, helping everyone gain more agency over their own health and wellness. Earning a public health master’s degree qualifies public health workers to serve communities, developing and maintaining public health programs that can provide direct positive impacts on the lives of individuals, families and entire neighborhoods. However, before one can make a difference, it helps to understand recent history within the field. Here are a few of the most important achievements in public health since the turn of the 21st century.
2000: The Creation of GOARN
The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) was established to help detect outbreaks of diseases and prevent their spread on an international level. GOARN is composed of dozens of public health institutions, laboratories, non-governmental organizations and others. Thanks to GOARN, the World Health Organization (WHO) knew of SARS, Ebola, H1N1 and other disease outbreaks early and thus was able to send relief to struggling communities to prevent unnecessary spread.
2001: The Beginning of the End of HIV/AIDS
Through the 1980s and ‘90s, the rise of HIV/AIDs was frightening, and many communities around the world became devastated by the disease. By 2001, governments formally committed to fighting HIV/AIDs and new, well-funded research initiatives launched — which eventually identified effective preventions and treatments. Thanks to the U.N. Declaration of Commitment in 2001, HIV/AIDs could be eradicated within our lifetime.
2003: The Beginning of the End of Tobacco Use
Though the general public have been aware of the harms of smoking for nearly a century, only within the past coupe decades has the medical community made a concerted effort to end tobacco use. In 2003, the World Health Assembly unanimously adopted the first global public health treaty aiming to reduce tobacco-related disease and deaths across the world.
2006: Radical Reduction in Child Mortality
Young children are among the most vulnerable populations, and through history, child mortality rates have been heartbreakingly high. Fortunately, efforts to reduce child mortality are paying off. By 2006, the number of children who die before their fifth birthday declined below 10 million for the first time, and rates of death in early childhood continue to decline.
2009: H1N1 Pandemic
The first influenza pandemic since 1968, the spread of H1N1 in 2009 was largely controlled thanks to rapid detection and development of vaccines.
2012: A Framework for Controlling Common Chronic Diseases
A rising threat in developed nations, chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, lung disease and others have largely been unaddressed by public health organizations. The release of NCD targets by the WHO coordinates efforts to understand and reduce rates of such diseases.
2013: The First Mental Health Action Plan
Another aspect of health that has long been ignored in the public space, mental health gains much-needed attention thanks to the release of the first Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan, which strives to integrate mental health into primary health care.
2014: Ebola Outbreak
Though Ebola was first discovered in the 1970s, the 2014 outbreak was the largest and most devastating spread of the disease. Though many West African nations suffered epidemics of Ebola, public health officials were able to contain the outbreak and prevent the development of a pandemic.
2015: Health and Sustainable Development
As concerns about climate change rise, public health professionals begin to recognize that sustainability is a public health issue. Therefore, the U.N.’s adoption of sustainable development goals in 2015 has the potential to create wide-ranging health impacts, promoting well-being around the world for all ages.
2016: A Declaration on Antimicrobial Resistance
Though the first antibiotic was discovered less than a century ago, humankind’s use of antibiotics has already prompted the development of antimicrobial resistance amongst bacteria, resulting in radically more dangerous diseases. A commitment to fighting antimicrobial resistance could prevent this concern from becoming a serious issue in the near future.
2020: COVID-19 Pandemic
The global pandemic demonstrated the insufficiency of so many public health processes and institutions. Moving forward, public health professionals should analyze successes and failings during the COVID pandemic to improve information distribution, health delivery and other elements that can reduce the impact of communicable diseases.
In many ways, the history of public health is only just beginning. Thanks to rapid development of medical knowledge and practices as well as improved systems to deliver information and treatments to patients, we could be entering a new era of public health.