Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

6. Public Health Infrastructure and Knowledge

John Powles, Flavio Comim

Dissemination of knowledge

  • Producing knowledge is no use unless it is used, and thus disseminated
  • Two key elements:
    • Extent to which knowledge is usable or embodied
    • Levels of schooling of local populations

Yet, it is not just the provision of knowledge that is of importance: perhaps even more so is its transmission. There are two primary elements determining the degree to which transmission of knowledge is achieved.

  • Knowledge must be usable or embodied. Knowledge can be usable when it consists of advice or general information to the population that is easily communicable (e.g. knowledge of how to treat common illnesses), or can be embodied when it consists of knowledge incorporated in routines, codified operations and techniques that are needed for the implementation of public health infrastructures (e.g. knowledge of how to attain high coverage in a vaccination programme). Knowledge embodied in public health infrastructure can be more or less adaptable to local conditions, can take more or less advantage of new information technology and reduced costs of communication, and can be more or less trusted.
  • Dissemination of knowledge depends also on the levels of schooling of local populations. New knowledge may be blocked by traditional practices so that people do not become aware, for example, of the potential benefits of antibacterial drugs and vaccines. The observation that parental, especially maternal, schooling predicts child survival in many low income populations points to the importance of the household as a locus of 'medical practice': that is, a place where the application of modern knowledge about disease can save lives.