Health Promotion & Disease Prevention

Health promotion and disease prevention are two important components of public health. They share many goals, and there is considerable overlap between functions. They also sound alike and their functions and activities are synergistic.

However, at the conceptual level, there are significant differences in their strategies and what they stand for. For starters, one focuses more on health while the other is focused more on diseases.

As a matter of fact, health promotion is only a subset of health prevention!

These differences will be addressed shortly.

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Health Promotion

It helps to see health promotion services as those that depend on intersectoral actions and they are concerned with the social determinants of health.

The scope and strategies of health promotion include the following:

  • Policies and interventions to address tobacco, alcohol, physical activity and diet (e.g.,  FCTC , DPAS , alcohol strategy and NCD best-buys)
  • Dietary and nutritional intervention should also appropriately tackle malnutrition, defined as a condition that arises from eating a diet in which certain nutrients are lacking, in excess (too high in intake), or in the wrong proportions
  • Intersectoral policies and health services interventions to address mental health and substance abuse
  • Strategies to promote sexual and reproductive health, including through health education and increased access to sexual and reproductive health, and family planning services
  • Strategies to tackle domestic violence, including public awareness campaigns; treatment and protection of victims; and linkage with law enforcement and social services.

Others include Promoting breastfeeding, Promoting child and family nutrition, STIs prevention and education, Injury prevention, Promoting physical activity, Smoking cessation programs such as ‘quit’ activities and ‘brief interventions’, Promoting early literacy among others

Health Promotion uses the all important tool of health education and other forms of literacy campaigns and policy develop developments to ensure and enforce it’s activities and bring about the desired changes.

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Disease Prevention.

On the other hand, Disease prevention, understood as specific, population-based and individual-based interventions for primary and secondary (early detection) prevention, aiming to minimize the burden of diseases and associated risk factors. It includes all actions aimed at avoiding the manifestation of a disease.

There are three levels of disease prevention; and each of the three approaches has an important role to play in disease prevention.

  1. Primary prevention: improving the overall health of the population
  2. Secondary prevention: improving early detection and diagnosis, and
  3. Tertiary prevention: improving treatment and recovery.

Scope of the function: Disease prevention

Primary prevention services and activities include: 

  • Vaccination and post-exposure prophylaxis of children, adults and the elderly;
  • Provision of information on behavioural and medical health risks, and measures to reduce risks at the individual and population levels; 
  • Inclusion of disease prevention programmes at primary and specialized health care levels, such as access to preventive services (ex. counselling);
  • Nutritional and food supplementation; and
  • Dental hygiene education and oral health services.

Secondary prevention includes activities such as

  • Population-based screening programmes for early detection of diseases; 
  • Provision of maternal and child health programmes, including screening and prevention of congenital malformations; and
  • Provision of chemo-prophylactic agents to control risk factors (e.g., hypertension)

Tertiary prevention involves activities including:

  • availability and affordability of treatment for early stages of diseases.
  • staff training in evidence-based treatment
  • management approaches for noncommunicable diseases, and
  • modern equipment.

In summary,

Primary Prevention = e.g., vaccination and health promotion

Secondary Prevention = e.g., screening and early detection of disease, while

While Tertiary Prevention = integrated patient-centred disease management.

And recommendations have been made to ensure a balance in the three disease prevention approaches in order to reduce disease burden and improve the general health of the population!

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