Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a condition “of full physical, mental and emotional well-being with no limitation of impairment.” A number of definitions have also been applied for various purposes over the years. According to one book on the subject, “health is the sum of healthful life and its maintenance.” Another definition states, “health is the sum of what a man gives to his human body and to his animal,” while another defines it as “the total value of the good things that a person leaves his body.”
In addition to these definitions, the world health services also has several indicators that indicate a state of health. For instance, according to WHO, a country’s ability to provide access to quality health care, health and medical services is an indicator of its overall health. Also, a country’s ability to protect human rights, its capacity to ensure food security and protect children from poverty are all indicators of the quality of health it provides. According to WHO, these indicators are not enough to draw comprehensive conclusions about a nation’s health system, but they serve an important function in helping people compare health systems around the world. The following report explores some of the WHO’s general health indicators.
The first indicator is the overall health condition of a nation. WHO notes that “poor nutrition causes many diseases that are manifested at a later stage in life; such as cancer, chronic conditions, diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis.” It goes on to note that “general indicators reflect a lack of adequate nutrition that can lead to a lack of health and a poor economical status, while indicators reflecting management and control measures to improve nutrition do not necessarily mean that the nation has a healthy lifestyle.” WHO further notes that poor nutrition contributes to deaths from heart disease, cancers, HIV/AIDS, and malaria. On the other hand, an adequate diet contributes to good health through a low rate of mortality and to improvements in quality of life through improvements in nutrition, physical fitness, prevention and control of infectious diseases and malnutrition.
Another indicator is healthcare, which WHO notes that is an increasing concern both for the quality of health care and the attitude of patients towards healthcare. WHO notes that “poor healthcare and health care delivery contribute to a high rate of non-communicable diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and pneumonia; a high percentage of preventable deaths; and improved survival rates for cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and dental care.” The organization notes that its focus on improving healthcare reflects its concern for social and economic development through competent healthcare professionals. However, despite its focus on improving the health of individuals through education and measures of prevention and control, WHO notes that some developed countries have difficulty in providing quality health care and suffer from higher levels of mortality than others.
The third indicator is physical well-being, which refers to one’s ability to carry out activities of daily living. WHO notes that its focus on physical well-being is driven by the belief that “a healthy body is a strong mind”. This belief has been instrumental in the growth of numerous health organizations, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of National AIDS Policy. The United States is one of the most progressive countries in providing information on physical well-being; however, other developed countries are lagging behind. As such, the organization has encouraged the medical community in the United States to improve the practice of primary prevention, which refers to screening for physical hazards and educating individuals about the risks of poor health and development.
The articles in this section of the companion guide provide information on issues related to the three indicators mentioned above. The topics include methods for measuring the levels of health-related indicators, developing nations’ ability to achieve higher levels of health, and the impact of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. Other topics include issues regarding electronic health records, and the effect of EMRs on the negotiation of effective compensation. The companion guide, issued jointly by the World Health Organization and the U.S. National Institute of Health, is a valuable source of information on the critical importance of promoting health and the development of international cooperative efforts aimed at achieving universal health care.