The Definition of Health
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is ‘a condition of total physical, emotional and social well being.’ A wide variety of definitions are used for such purposes over the years. Some use the dictionary definition, which suggests that ‘health’ refers to the absence of physical illness or disease, while others use the medical definition, which suggests that health refers to the protection of the body against bodily harm or danger. Still other use both definitions, with the intent to emphasize the concept of health as something that regards the quality of life and physical well being.
This article proposes using a hybrid definition, one that takes into account some of the complexities of today’s health systems. According to this hybrid definition, health is a complex system that recognizes and meets the unique needs of people who live in a variety of circumstances. Health is therefore subjective, and the way it is understood and appreciated varies among individuals. In fact, the two extremes of the medical definition of health can be considered to be extreme.
Health is also a living definition, and this is influenced by the culture, society, experiences, values and priorities of a person’s life course. Health may also take into account the environment one lives in, such as neighborhood risk factors, social patterns and communication systems. The environment also affects health in terms of its maintenance and provision. Health therefore has a broad range of interacting concepts that take into account both internal and external aspects of the life course.
Health is affected by the definition of what diseases are, the conditions they cause and the ways in which they can be prevented. Health is also affected by the definition of the life course, since it is both the process by which diseases occur and the consequences of these disease processes. Health concerns are therefore an interdisciplinary field that incorporates many aspects of medicine, nursing and the health care system. Achieving quality control over health is therefore an ongoing process, dependent upon efforts in the various sectors. Successful implementation of strategies relies heavily on the capacity of a wide range of people to work collectively towards a common purpose, as reflected in the various policies and programs created to improve health.
The first step towards creating a comprehensive definition of health is the identification and assessment of all the major diseases and their risk factors. The next step involves designing a health policy that takes into account all the characteristics of health and makes provisions for population planning and management. The design of the health policy will depend on the objective of the policy, which may be to reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases, or to promote the prevention of certain types of diseases. Since the objective of health policy is highly dependent on the age of the target population, it is important to take into consideration the existing health status of the population and the distribution of population in terms of age.
The third step towards designing a sound health policy is the creation of a population-based approach that takes into consideration both the risk factors and wellness measures. The health service, financing and policies should be analyzed to identify the needs of the population in terms of wellness and prevention and the sources of financing. The development of guidelines for wellness, developed by a WHO steering committee, has helped to greatly improve the availability of services. The most recent developments include the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) which identifies five universal diseases requiring a coordinated global effort to better understand and deal with them.