Prof. (Dr.) Upasana Mahanta Dean, Admissions and Outreach O.P. Jindal Global University
Like it or not, the pandemic has forced us to look at the world from new prisms as it turns our conventional wisdom of dealing with diseases upside down. At the time the world came to know of Sars-Cov-2 last year, a large number of people thought that once scientists develop a vaccine to beat the virus, life would come back to normal in no time. But here we are.
Several months after a number of vaccines have proven to be effective against the novel coronavirus, the pandemic is still raging in many parts of the world. Inadequate supply of vaccines is also not the only problem that many countries are dealing with. There are issues ranging from vaccine hesitancy to logistics, finances and politics, to name a few, that have constrained the vaccination drive worldwide. Similarly, inventing a pill to cure disease does not always guarantee that people will remain healthy as it will have to reach the people who need it and they will also have to willingly accept it.
Thus the Covid-19 pandemic has made the limitations of adopting a strictly clinical approach to healthcare clearer than ever. That is the reason there is now widespread recognition of the role public health professionals can play in keeping the population of a country healthy. As opposed to the field of medicine which focuses on treatment of people afflicted with diseases, the public health experts work towards preventing and controlling a disease. Doctors and nurses focus on treatment of an individual, while public health experts are concerned with the health of the entire population of a particular geographical area.
State of Public Health Education in India
Despite the role that public health practitioners can play in saving lives by controlling and preventing devastating diseases, public health education has not gained much traction as the number of colleges and universities offering a degree in public health are quite few and far between. For example, in Brazil, which is also an emerging economy like India, there was a public health training course per five million people in 2016–2017, compared to India’s one course per 28.7 million people during the same period, according to an analysis. The situation has not improved much in the subsequent years as there is severe lack of awareness among the youth about public health degree programmes and the career prospects that they offer. There is also the challenge of improving the quality of public health education in the country to a level that makes the graduates globally competent.
Careers in Public Health
The primary goal of public health education is to train professionals who can understand the conditions that contribute to outbreak and persistence of different diseases, and interpret data related to diseases and health outcomes so that they can roll out effective interventions needed to control and prevent diseases. Therefore, a public health degree teaches students how to analyse the patterns and distribution of a disease or health event, its causes and risk factors. Specialisations in public health include a broad range of areas such as biostatistics and informatics, community health, epidemiology, environmental health, global health, health policy and management, health promotion and communication, maternal and child health, health disparities, and social and behavioural health. As such, a public health degree can open up career opportunities in a wide range of sectors including in government orgnisations dealing with health issues and disaster preparedness, pharmaceutical manufacturers, academia, intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental organisations, healthcare facilities, consultancies and think tanks. The roles that public health graduates can take up include that of an epidemiologist, biostatistician, health educator, sanitarian, public health advisor, environmental health scientist, toxicologist, industrial hygienist, health administrator, health economist, health analyst, demographer, medical administrator and health commissioner, among others. Because public health graduates learn different skills such as data analytics, communications, writing and project management, they can also explore career opportunities in diverse organisations such as public relations companies, and advertising and marketing agencies, among others.
Time for a Fresh Start
While the positive role that public health experts can play in keeping the country’s population healthy as well as in sustaining economic growth cannot be overstated now most of India’s top educational institutes are yet to start a programme in this important field of study. This, however, is set to change as O.P. Jindal Global University, ranked India’s No. 1 private university by QS World University Rankings 2022, recently announced the setting up of the Jindal School of Public Health & Human Development (JSPH).
The creation of the JSPH marks the beginning of a new era in public health education in India as JGU is known for its transformative role in providing world-class education in the country. While historically, medical colleges have been at the forefront of offering public health education in India, JSPH will further JGU’s focus on the humanities and social sciences, while preparing the next generation of professionals in the field of public health. Beginning its academic session in August 2022, JSPH will combine traditional study areas of public health with relevant research and teaching that address health as a human right.
True to its tradition of hiring internationally experienced erudite scholars as faculty members for its schools, JGU has roped in Stephen P. Marks, currently Professor of Health and Human Rights at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, as the Founding Dean of JSPH. It is hoped that the leadership of Professor Marks, who will take up the appointment as the Dean of JSPH in the fall of 2022, would prove to be vital in JGU’s move to establish a world-class school of public health and human development.