Public health priorities

In this step we’ll start to think about what can be done to address individual country health concerns and what this means for your practice both now and in the future.

The World Health Organization was established in 1948 as the health arm of the United Nations. With 194 member states, its work is to coordinate and direct health. It has seen enormous progress in work it has supported including the eradication of smallpox, working towards polio eradication, reduction in child and maternal mortality, an expanded program on immunisation, along with a reduction in the numbers of cases of tuberculosis and malaria.

The WHO is also involved reactively (in preparedness) with humanitarian aid crises including dealing with Ebola outbreaks. Increasingly now it is working on NCDs via a lifecourse approach and has a significant input into surveillance work, monitoring health and assessing trends.

In 2000, each member state signed up to achieve eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015. These were ambitious targets to reduce extreme poverty, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS and malaria, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for health.

Many of these targets were not only met but exceeded and this has had a major impact on the improvements in health you saw when you reviewed the Global Burden of Disease data.

In 2015 the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were introduced, which were broader and more ambitious and, alongside health, also incorporated economic, social and environmental priorities. So the understanding of the social determinants of health that we looked at earlier in the module is now being seen in international policy development. You can see the detail of the Sustainable Development Goals in the image at the top of this page (you may wish to visit this clearer, accessible version of the graphic, available on the United Nations Development Program website) . So how much will these targets cost?

You may be interested in watching this WHO video to find out.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

You can also watch Michael Green’s TED talk on How we can make the world a better place by 2030, which looks at how the Sustainable Development Goals could be achieved.

You may, however, be asking why we should bother with targets?

Targets are a useful way of helping countries to understand where they sit in the international league tables of health. It can help to shine a light on areas of under-performance and give an incentive to change.

In setting public health priorities, it is important to understand the population health needs by undertaking routine and robust data collection and to ensure that any actions are evidence based.


Your task

Look at the government website for your own country. Find the health element and establish answers to these questions:

  • Are there any health priorities for your country?
  • If so, what are they?
  • Are you able to identify whether they are linked to the Sustainable Development Goals?

Share the links you find in the discussion and address the questions above with your colleagues.


Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Could You Be the Next Florence Nightingale?

Coventry University