About public health

Public health is often described as ‘the science and art of promoting health, preventing disease and prolonging life through the organised efforts of society.’

This means that public health is about:

  • protecting against community health risks and threats
  • preventing illness
  • promoting health and wellbeing
  • across the whole population or population groups.

Two things that generally distinguish public health from other health areas are that public health:

  • keeps people well
  • focuses on groups of people, not individuals.

Public health protects and promotes the health of populations rather than treating diseases, disorders and disabilities in individuals. It is the fence at the top of the cliff.

Public health is about using evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies to help communities grow their own ability to address the issues that affect their population.

How is public health different from publicly funded health?

The terms public health and publicly funded health are often confused. Public health is not the same as publicly funded health.

Publicly funded health includes all health and disability services funded from taxes, including:

  • personal health services (delivered to individuals)
  • public health services (delivered to promote and protect community health)
  • mental health services
  • early detection and treatment services
  • disability support services that are paid for by the Government.

Go to Overview of the health system for more information.

The relationship between public health and personal health

  • Public health focuses on improving community health and population health using proven health promotion and health protection strategies promotion
  • Personal health focuses on treating the health of individuals.

Public health and personal health services are complementary. They are both important and necessary to achieve a positive change in the health of populations and individuals. Neither is effective alone.

In this section

  • There are a number of international models of public health that can be used in planning and delivery of public health services. Read more
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