Reclaiming comprehensive public health
An article by Rene Loewenson, Kirsten Accoe, Nitin Bajpai, Kent Buse, Thilagawathi Abi Deivanayagam, Leslie London, Claudio A Méndez, Tolib Mirzoev, Erica Nelson, Ateeb Ahmad Parray, Ari Probandari, Eric Sarriot, Moses Tetui, and André Janse van Rensburg, published in the BMJ Global Health.
Global and national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic highlight a long-standing tension between biosecurity-focused, authoritarian and sometimes militarised approaches to public health and, in contrast, comprehensive, social determinants, participatory and rights-based approaches.
Notwithstanding principles that may limit rights in the interests of public health and the role of central measures in some circumstances, effective public health in a protracted pandemic like COVID-19 requires cooperation, communication, participatory decision-making and action that safeguards the Siracusa principles, respect for people’s dignity and local-level realities and capacities.
Yet there is mounting evidence of a dominant response to COVID-19 where decisions are being made and enforced in an overcentralised, non-transparent, top-down manner, often involving military coercion and abuse in communities, even while evidence shows the long-term harm to public health and human rights.
In contrast, experiences of comprehensive, equity-focused, participatory public health approaches, which use diverse sources of knowledge, disciplines and capabilities, show the type of public health approach that will be more effective to meet the 21st century challenges of pandemics, climate, food and energy crises, growing social inequality, conflict and other threats to health.