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J Public Health (Oxf). 2018 Sep 1;40(3):e413-e418. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdx169.

Utility and justice in public health.

Author information

1
Department of Politics, Philosophy & Religion, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK.

Abstract

Background:

Many public health practitioners and organizations view themselves as engaged in the promotion or achievement of equity. However, discussions around public health frequently assume that practitioners and policy-makers take a utilitarian approach to this work.

Methods:

I argue that public health is better understood as a social justice endeavor. I begin by presenting the utility view of public health and then discuss the equity view. This is a theoretical argument, which should help public health to justify interventions for communicable and non-communicable diseases equally, and which contributes to breaking down the 'old/new' public health divide.

Results:

This argument captures practitioners' views of the work they are engaged in and allows for the moral and policy justification of important interventions in communicable and non-communicable diseases. Systemic interventions are necessary to remedy high rates of disease among certain groups and, generally, to improve the health of entire populations.

Conclusions:

By viewing diseases as partly the result of failures of health protective systems in society, public health may justify interventions in communicable and non-communicable diseases equally. Public health holds a duty to improve the health of the worst-off in society; by prioritizing this group, the health of the whole community may improve.

PMID:
29237059
PMCID:
PMC6209647
[Available on 2019-09-01]
DOI:
10.1093/pubmed/fdx169

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