Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

6. Public Health Infrastructure and Knowledge

John Powles, Flavio Comim

Public health "infrastructures"

  • Public health infrastructures are formal and enduring structures that support public health
  • They comprise:
    • institutions and capacity
    • knowledge (of public and professional)
    • commodities (physical infrastructure)

Infrastructures are "the basic services or social capital of a country, or part of it, which make economic and social activities possible…". In terms of public health, they are the formal and enduring structures that support public health, having both tangible and intangible aspects and existing inside and outside the government sector. They may be directly protective of health - as in public sanitation systems - or they may support other activities that protect and enhance health.

The elements of public health infrastructure that tend to be easiest to recognise and to describe are those concerned with areas such as communicable disease control (including the safety of food), the protection of the health of mothers and children and the control of environmental contamination. Less easy to identify are those infrastructures related to the control of non-communicable disease and injury. However, in all these cases, effective improvements in public health require the three elements:

1. institutions and capacity appropriate to respond to these problems and associated tasks (given the needs and circumstances of the country involved); 2. knowledge, as assimilated and put to use both by the general population and by professional and administrative staff; and 3. necessary commodities (resources or 'tangible' infrastructure).