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A country’s prosperity rides on the health of its population. Today, the foremost challenge confronting India is improving its performance on health indicators. Beyond these numbers which represent national averages, there is a human dimension to public health – all sections of India’s population need to be assured of accessible, affordable, and effective health services. It is also important to envision health as extending beyond illness care to disease prevention and wellness promotion. Health care reforms, in the last decade, experienced a paradigm shift from an exclusive focus on clinical medicine to a concerted public health response, thereby making provision for health promotion, disease prevention, and affordable diagnostic and therapeutic health care for all. Central to this shift has been the growth of public health — a multi-disciplinary academic stream and a multi- sectoral implementation pathway.
Public Health as a formal discipline should ideally integrate streams of knowledge from diverse disciplines, bringing together learnings and perspectives from life sciences (especially human biology), quantitative sciences (such as epidemiology, biostatistics and demography), social and behavioural sciences (including economics, sociology, anthropology and communication), political science, humanities (especially human rights and ethics), and elements of management. While the specific applications of such knowledge would vary across medicine and public health, a broad array of disciplines must inform and influence the totality of their precept and practice to advance global health. This holistic approach, at the moment was grossly underdeveloped in independent India. This is impeding policy coherence as well as access to quality health services.
Due to an insufficiently developed institutional capacity for public health education, inadequate availability of well-rounded public health experts has seriously incapacitated public health policy and research. The numbers of graduates from existing health schools are insufficient to fulfil the need for trained health professionals. The resultant shortfall of professionals with inter-disciplinary orientation, relevant knowledge and skill-sets has inhibited broader understanding of health issues as well as hindered opportunities for multi-sectoral public health action. Several expert committees set up by the Government of India have recommended the need for establishing institutes of public health. However, no specific action was initiated to implement these recommendations till 2006.
As a response to these urgent and well- acknowledged needs of India and the entire South Asia region, the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) was established as a large-scale, autonomous, public-private initiative in March 2006. In the inception of this institution lies the intent to build broadband public health capacity, and a commitment to meet the short supply of health professionals for a sustained response to major public health concerns.