Public Health Infrastructure: Overview & Importance

Instructor: Daniel Murdock

Daniel has taught Public Health at the graduate level and has a Ph.D. in Behavioral Sciences & Health Education.

Public health infrastructure is the foundation of the public health system. In this lesson, we'll examine the key components of public health infrastructure and discuss its importance.

What Is Public Health Infrastructure?

We rely on many different kinds of infrastructure in our daily lives. We rely on roads to travel from one place to another, telecommunications systems to connect with one another, and electrical grids to deliver our electricity. Infrastructure is the underlying foundation of our society.

We also rely on public health infrastructure to keep us healthy. Public health is the science of promoting and protecting the health of people and the communities where they live. Public health focuses on promoting health and preventing disease and injury at the population level. Federal, State, and local health agencies rely on basic infrastructure to monitor population health and respond to community health needs. Infrastructure is the basis for planning, delivering, and evaluating a wide range of essential public health services.

The Importance of Public Health Infrastructure

Protecting the health of entire communities is a massive undertaking that requires large-scale, coordinated efforts. It requires systematic data collection to monitor community health needs and identify underlying causes of health problems. It also requires a well trained network of public health professionals to develop and implement evidence-based health policies and intervention programs.

Infrastructure allows public health professionals to respond to ongoing health problems, such as chronic disease, and prepare for and respond to emergency health threats, such as natural disasters and disease outbreaks. Without a strong public health infrastructure, deadly disease outbreaks can become even deadlier. For example, during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, poor disease surveillance, a shortage of health workforce, and a lack of proper communication all contributed to widespread transmission of the Ebola virus.

Map of the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa
2014 Ebola outbreak map

Key Components of Public Health Infrastructure

Earlier, we discussed how roads are an important form of transportation infrastructure. However, roads are just one of several key components of our transportation infrastructure. We also rely on bridges, railways, and airports to travel from one place to another.

Public health infrastructure is similarly made up of several different components. The three key components of a strong and effective public health infrastructure are:

  1. Capable and coordinated public health agencies
  2. A well qualified public health workforce
  3. Modern data and information systems

Public health agencies play a central role in public health infrastructure. Local health departments are the front line for delivering basic public health services. Their success requires a great deal of coordination with state health departments and federal public health agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A strong public health infrastructure also requires a diverse network of well trained health professionals. From doctors and nurses to researchers and policy experts, there are many different types of professionals who are needed to advance public health goals.

Systematic data collection is a core function of public health infrastructure. Up-to-date data and information systems are needed for routine disease surveillance, tracking disease outbreaks, identifying underlying causes of disease, and evaluating the effectiveness of public health services.

The 10 Essential Public Health Services

We know that roads serve many different purposes. Roads allow us to travel via cars and bikes, enable mass transit, improve military mobility, and allow us to transport goods.

Public health agencies also serve several different purposes. There are three core functions of public health agencies:

  1. Assessment: Public health agencies assess community health status and determine whether communities have adequate resources to address health problems.
  2. Policy development: Public health agencies develop health policies and programs that address community health needs.
  3. Assurance: Public health agencies assure that high quality and effective public health services are available in communities.

These core functions correspond to a set of activities known as the 10 essential public health services. The 10 essential public health services represent the basic responsibilities of public health. Public health infrastructure provides a foundation for undertaking these responsibilities.

The first two essential public health services are related to assessment:

  • Monitor community health status to identify health problems and health hazards
  • Diagnose and investigate community health problems and health hazards

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