What is health promotion and what is its role in emergency health?

The four pillars of emergency health include: prevention, protection, promotion, and provision of care.

Pillar 1 – prevent societal health determinants (i.e., “the causes of the causes of disease”) before the emergency.

In pillar 2 – promote individual protective factors (i.e., “the causes of wellness”) and reduce individual risk factors (i.e., “the causes of disease”) before the emergency.

For pillar 3 –  protect at risk populations from hazardous exposures (i.e., “the causes of disease”) during the emergency.

And Pillar 4 – provide medical care and humanitarian relief after the emergency.

Pillar 2 of Emergency Health is Health Promotion.

Some of our own individual factors (e.g., extremes of age, low socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity) increase our risk of disaster-related health effects. There are also individual factors that are considered protective during an emergency (e.g., health status, fitness, mobility). Public health considers many of these risk and protective factors to be “modifiable” or subject to change.

Health promotion is a widely used public health intervention intended to improve the health of a population by promoting modifiable protective factors and reducing modifiable risk factors.

Health promotion programs engage and empower individuals at risk by improving fitness, mobility and well-being. They also enhance our ability to function in society. In a previous DisasterDoc blog, Dr Tiyagi from India has stressed the need to pay special attention to the functional needs of populations that are at risk for disasters.

Health promotion for emergencies includes three basic strategies:

1) advocate for factors that encourage health (particularly among at risk populations),

2) enable people to achieve health equity, and

3) mediate through collaboration across all sectors.

For example, health promotion programs help to reduce individual disaster-related risk factors (like social isolation,  poor health status, and unhealthy homes) while at the same time promoting protective factors (like social cohesion, access to preventive care and mobility).

Health promotion plays a critical role as one of the four pillars of emergency health. Healthy people suffer less injuries and illness before, during and after a disaster.

Health promotion is a no-regret option for wellness and prevention of all disease, not merely that associated with disasters.


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