I am not an animal person. So, it came as a surprise to many of my friends and family to learn that my focus area in graduate school was Veterinary Public Health. However, the title isn’t exactly what it implies, and (thankfully) required no hands-on experience with animals. Veterinary public health is a component of public health that focuses on the application of veterinary science to protect and improve the physical, mental, and social well-being of humans.
Public health is much more than anti-tobacco campaigns, vaccinations, and water standards. It is a practice that is constantly evolving in response to the needs of the population. Public health works to improve the conditions and behaviors that affect health so all people can attain it. It is an important practice, because it addresses broad issues that affect our health and well-being.
While we often talk about social determinants of health, such as income or race, as important factors that affect the health of humans, there are many links between human health, animal health, and environmental health, as well. Zoonotic diseases, like the West Nile Virus, can be transmitted to humans from mosquitoes, with birds being the natural host for the virus. In fact, diseases transmitted by mosquitoes kill 725,000 people a year, globally. The environment also impacts our health. Environmental conditions like air pollution can be linked to premature births in the U.S and the water quality issues in Flint, Michigan have been national news for several months. Ideally, we would approach health system change with interdisciplinary collaborations and an understanding of the relationship between the health of humans, the environment, and animals, because these issues can put a strain on our health care system, both in terms of increased financial costs and human lives harmed.
At CCMU, we keep our eye on the big picture of the health care system in Colorado, but there’s an even bigger picture to see. Achieving better health for Coloradans requires us to look at our world as a more connected place. Colorado’s public health departments, schools, and organizations are an innovative group that are leading our state in this work. For example, six Western Slope counties formed the West Central Public Health Partnership in 2006, and went on to unite environmental and population health efforts (PDF) at a scale not previously possible. In central Colorado, the Region & Regional Care Collaborative Organization (RCCO) was highlighted by the CDC as an example of enhanced collaboration (PDF) because public health officials serve as part of the RCCO’s governance committee—a promising practice of including the public health perspective within health care settings.
My public health perspective has helped me see just how many factors have an impact on our health and how important collaboration between health care and public health can be. Animal lover or not, since their health affects mine and my neighbors’ health, I care about their well-being, and hope we’ll all commit to seeing the even bigger picture.