Research published by the Institute for Population Health (IPH) at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) says that the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates an urgent need to take public health far more seriously at both national and international levels.

The research states that in almost all countries around the world, there has been inadequate investment in public health and prevention programmes, very little public health training in medical education and chronic underinvestment in public health research. In 2017, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries invested only 2.8% of their total health expenditure in public health.

The paper, titled ‘The single most important lesson from COVID-19 – It is time to take public health seriously’ demonstrates that investment in preventive care in high-income nations has stagnated in recent decades, despite the staggering returns of public health interventions in terms of improved life expectancy, reduced infant mortality, improved quality of life, and value for money.

The research, published in the Journal of Global Health, also notes the glaring lack of global consensus on how to implement basic health measures to contain the pandemic, a notable example being lives lost in nursing care home populations, which should have been prioritised at the onset but were not.

The authors of the study include Dr Ravinder Mamtani, Vice Dean for Student Affairs – Admissions, Population Health and Lifestyle Medicine; IPH Assistant Dean Dr Sohaila Cheema; IPH Assistant Director Dr Sathya Doraiswamy; Population Health Sciences Instructor Dr Amit Abraham; and Dr Marco Ameduri, Associate Professor of Physics and Senior Associate Dean for Pre-Medical Education and Education City Collaborative Curricular Affairs.

Inadequate study on public health

The paper analysed existing public health education and found that traditional medical curricula continue to focus heavily on medical care, with many medical schools offering inadequate study of public health or preventive health. There was also evidence of a lack of skills training in leadership, management, communication, and patient advocacy for medical students.

The paper also found that public health research efforts in high-income nations were poorly focused and lacked coordination, with many studies overlapping one another, and that less than 5% of projects had a stated outcome related to the leading risk factors for death and disability in the country in question. Furthermore, the vast majority of studies were found to be observational in nature, with very few focused on meaningful interventions.

To address these challenges, the authors call for the introduction of robust, high-quality public health education for medical students, with a strong emphasis on practical field-work and real-world experiences, along with increased investment in interventional public health programmes at national and international levels, plus a far more coordinated approach to public health research.

The research can be read in full here

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