What impact is Covid-19 having for future public health professionals?
This World Health Day, as we continue to emerge from the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic, Penny Cook, Professor of Public Health at the University of Salford, gives us her view on what the long-term effects of the pandemic might be for those considering a career in public health.
“Covid-19 has hugely increased our awareness of the role of public health professionals. Those working in public health have had to learn about responding to a new disease and how to prevent it, for example through measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing and vaccine development. It is vital that we continue to develop a workforce ready to take on challenges such as this.
“We have also become acutely aware of how the population is not equally susceptible to the impacts of Covid-19. We have learned, for example, that those who are from black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are more at risk, as are those with less job security and those whose jobs meant that it was difficult to practice social distancing. The priority of public health professionals is to reduce such inequalities in health outcomes.
“While Covid-19 has had a particularly devastating impact in the last 24 months, there are also other important issues for anyone considering a career in public health to consider.
“These include the rising burden of death and illness due to so-called ‘lifestyle diseases’: those which, on one level, are simply explained by inactivity, alcohol consumption and poor diet. On a more fundamental level though, these deaths can be described as ‘deaths of despair’. This is evidenced in communities that are characterised by poverty and lack of opportunity, where there are far higher rates of such illness.
“This means that tackling the complex causes of ill-health requires political, as well as scientific, approaches. By far the greatest health burden is caused because our population does not have equal access to a healthy environment and a healthy society.
“With all of this in mind, it is more important than ever that we continue to train the next generation to be able to critically evaluate evidence as well as to learn the art and science of working within social and political systems to effect change.”
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