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Public health is one of the greatest things in which a government can invest. Early prevention, which is relatively inexpensive, can prevent dire and expensive health care problems later in life. 

Most countries have their own governmental public health agency, often called the ministry of health, with responsibility for domestic health issues. 

For example, in the United States, state and local health departments are on the front line of public health initiatives. In addition to their national duties, the United States Public Health Service (PHS), led by the Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, headquartered in Atlanta, are also involved with international health activities. 

Public health promotes the welfare of the entire population, ensures its security and protects it from the spread of infectious disease and environmental hazards, and helps to ensure access to safe and quality care to benefit the population. 

Governmental responsibilities for public health extend beyond voluntary activities and services to include additional authorities such as quarantine, mandatory immunization laws, and regulatory authorities. The state’s partnership functions by encouraging residents to do things that benefit their health (e.g., physical activity)  or create conditions to promote good health, and requiring certain actions (e.g., food safety). 

Public health is population-based. Although local health departments and community health boards provide services to individuals, the goal of a populationbased approach is very different from that of a patient-based or client-based approach that addresses the needs or concerns of an individual. Since public health activities are based on community needs, resources, funding, and support, services vary among local public health departments.

The areas of public health responsibility include: 

  1. assuring an adequate local public health infrastructure,
  2. promoting healthy communities and healthy behaviors, 
  3. preventing the spread of communicable disease,
  4. protecting against environmental health hazards, 
  5.  preparing for and responding to emergencies, and 
  6. assuring health services.