By Jamie Herndon
July 15th, 2021
Public health. Before spring 2020, I’m not sure most people really understood what public health was. Epidemiology was something that didn’t come up in casual conversation that much. But once COVID-19 was in our daily lexicon, everyone seemed to be armchair epidemiologists, for better and/or worse. People would message me about epidemiology or communicable diseases, and I was honest with them: I’m not an epidemiologist. I didn’t focus on epidemiology, and communicable diseases was not an area I studied much. (My focus was maternal-child health, specifically perinatal health, as well as women’s and children’s cancers).
So, what is public health?
Public health is a huge field. This was one of the reasons I was drawn to it. There’s just so much covered in public health, because there are so many determinants of health — societal, political, economic, personal, and more. At its core, public health, as defined by the American Public Health Association, promotes and protects the health of people and communities. Public health can focus on global or domestic health, specific communities or populations, and different approaches (e.g. those who focus on health education versus those who work solely in biostatistics or policy). Disease outbreaks, gun violence, housing, injury and violence prevention, tobacco, environmental health, health reform and policy — all of this falls under the public health umbrella.
The pandemic illustrated why public health is so important and what happens when public health measures are needlessly politicized, when they aren’t implemented, or when they break down. We saw what happens when people don’t care about public health and their communities, and we saw the erosion of trust in public health institutions, which I hope can be rebuilt. We saw how necessary it is that people have some kind of scientific literacy, because the spread of misinformation when they don’t is devastating. And yet I also think the pandemic sparked interest in public health and communal care.
I’ve put together a list of books to explore different areas of the field, but there are so many that I could have added, and wanted to. This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you’re looking for even more books, check out this list of books on reproductive justice, and this list about healthcare bias.
Bodies and Barriers: Queer Activists on Health Edited by Adrian Shanker
The LGBTQ+ community consistently experiences healthcare disparities, and while the medical community may be aware of that, knowledge is still lacking about specific challenges, and how to change this. This collection of data-informed essays by queer activists illustrates pertinent healthcare topics and challenges in care, and provides readers with the information they need to demand health equity through a variety of systemic changes.