Policies are a set of courses designed to influence decisions and determine actions by a specific group or organization.
It is a guiding principle for making decisions important to the organization and is usually aimed at setting and achieving goals that will impact the organization. In the context of health care, specifically in the field of public health, these policies are developed by those involved in the local health care system and are usually designed to address issues concerning public health. In this situation, health policies play an important, if not primary, role in disease prevention and maintenance of the community’s health equity.
Health care in the 21st century has recently experienced a paradigm shift, moving from de facto medical treatment to prevention imprimis (in the first place) and shifting focus from the individual to a more comprehensive community focus.
This is known as the concept of “moving upstream,” a popular analogy used to highlight the importance of primary prevention (Cohen & Chehimi, 2007 p.4).
As shown in the suggested health policy, an example of this trend is the formation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) on May 24, 1999 by the World Health Organization (WHO) via the World Health Assembly (WHA), WHO’s governing body, wherein a legally binding instrument was resolved to be developed, accepting that tobacco is a harmful commodity contributing to health inequity in all societies (American Thoracic Society, 2004).
By the formation of this convention, WHO’s action paved the way for the formation of health policies that addressed the health problems associated with tobacco use. When President Bush signed the FCTC Treaty, the resulting policies effectively helped restrict the use of tobacco worldwide.
This led to a ban on tobacco advertising and promotion (unless constitutional barriers exist), the requirement of health labels on 30% of the wrapper and the elimination of misleading language on labels (American Thoracic Society, 2004). These results are an indication that health policies are indeed powerful tools for prevention, and, when developed and enacted properly, can bring about effective change in the community.
According to the sample policy, the use of the media by public health educators is an effective strategy in developing and advancing public health policies. The media is an effective tool since it is one of the best platforms to get the attention of those best fit to influence policy making and implementation, such as legislators, major decision makers and elected officials (APHA Media Advocacy Manual, 2000 p.2).
It is also a venue that covers a wide range demographic, and can easily appeal first hand to target groups with behavioral risk factors (i.e. the smoking rates among communities of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities). In the United States, it is a known fact that in over half of the cases of mortalities, the causes are linked to behavioral risk factors. These include smoking habits, alcohol use, poor diet and sedentary lifestyles, and accidents.
Also an indication of this trend is the replacement of infectious diseases and malnutrition by non-communicable diseases as the leading causes of disability and death. It is even estimated that by the year 2020, over half of the diseases that contribute to global disability will be a consequence of behavioural factors (Cohen & Perl, 2003 p.1). Appealing to these target groups first hand through various media platforms can positively impact health care in the United States by addressing behavioral factors directly.
Change can be met by using the wide reach of the media to provide health policies strength, support and attention, thereby effectively increasing the delivery of health education, awareness and warnings against community dangers such as tobacco products. Utilizing media advocacy in the propagation and implementation of health policies may very well help modern health care “move upstream.”
American Public Health Association. (2000) Media advocacy manual. Washington DC, American Public Health Association.
American Thoracic Society. (2004).WHA (1999), World Health Assembly World Health
Organization: framework convention on tobacco control.
Cohen, N., Perl, S. (2003). Integrating behavioral and social science into a public health agency: a case study of New York city. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. The New York Academy of Medicine. New York.
Cohen, L., Chavez, V., & Chehimi, S. (2007). Beyond brochures : the imperative for primary prevention. Prevention is primary: strategies for community well being. Prevention Institute, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.