Community health workers are directly related to public health because of their services to individuals and communities, helping them prevent and manage conditions and improving their health outcomes.
However, sometimes they may have a vague understanding of public health or its implications, which makes training in this area a must for any CHW and community initiative.
So, What Exactly Is Public Health?
CDC Foundation defines public health as “… the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities.” That sounds a lot like what CHWs do, right?
The first public health initiatives surged in England in the 18th century with three basic pillars: Clean water supply and sanitation, infectious disease control, and the development of sciences like microbiology and epidemiology. In the early 1900s, American researcher Charles-Edward Amory Winslow spearheaded research in the US, focusing on topics like typhoid fever and its relationship with public water supplies, air quality in New York City schools, and poverty’s influence on disease.
Since then, public health focuses on issues including epidemics and infectious diseases like tuberculosis; and chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. It also studies and tries to mitigate issues concerning the general population, including maternal and child health in developing countries, substance abuse, gun violence, natural disasters and environmental change.
Who Leads the Conversation in Public Health?
No singular organism governs public health. Instead, institutions like the World Health Organization, Pan American Health Organization, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are the leading authorities in this space. As you may remember from the pandemic, these organizations compile research, make recommendations and monitor high-risk situations.
But as you know, public health operates on a global and a local scale. So state and local agencies also contribute to it. Here’s where community health workers come in.
CHWTraining’s one-year learning subscriptions are customizable and provide high-quality education to your team. Perfect for training new employees who need core competencies or standardizing training for existing staff — on their own time. Click here to learn more about CHWTraining subscriptions.
What Can CHWs Do for Public Health?
CHWs drive health initiatives and ensure citizens can access the resources they need to live happy, healthy lives. Specifically, CHWs can get involved in a number of ways.
Studies show that communities with active CHW programs see significant savings in health-related services because CHWs prevent people from getting sick by promoting health services like cancer screenings and vaccinations to stop the spread and development of diseases.
CHWs must be able to understand basic health concepts and carry them to their communities to help patients understand their diagnosis and subsequent care. In addition to specific diagnoses, CHWs can help patients understand their risks and learn to prevent or mitigate them in the search for a healthier life.
Reproductive Health and Family Planning
The Guttmacher Institute reports that nearly half of all pregnancies in the US are unintended. And these rates are higher in low-income populations, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty in many ways. In addition, women of color have higher rates of pregnancy complications and pregnancy-related deaths.
Family planning prevents unintended pregnancy, addresses infertility, and reduces the transmission of STDs. Access to these services is essential for communities to thrive. And CHWs are essential in at-risk communities because they bridge the gap between providers and patients, helping guarantee that these vulnerable populations get access to effective reproductive care.
Social Determinants of Health
Social determinants of health (SDOH) are five domains of non-health-related factors that influence a person’s health outcomes. These include Economic Stability, Education Access and Quality, Health Care Access and Quality, Neighborhood and Build Environment, and Social and Community Context.
Knowing these factors means CHWs can address inequities and mitigate their impacts on public health.
There are countless studies on the benefits of physical activity and nutrition. However, many people neglect to take care of their bodies proactively. This could be because they don’t have the knowledge, time or resources to do so.
CHWs can help people build better habits by creating safe spaces to exercise. They can also educate patients about the positive effects of exercise, and foster group activities to motivate them to get involved.
Similarly, CHWs can provide educational materials that cover the effects of nutrition on chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension.
One of the main concerns for vulnerable communities is managing chronic conditions. A few factors involved are:
- Not being able to afford medication without health insurance.
- No public transportation or a way to get to medical services.
- Food deserts, where people can’t access affordable, nutritious food.
- A lack of knowledge regarding lifestyle changes to mitigate symptoms.
- Language barriers.
CHWs address these factors by connecting patients to affordable care, transportation services, food banks, and interpreters or providers who speak their native language. They also create plans for people to implement gradual changes that work with their real living conditions and cultural needs.
Substance use is part of behavioral healthcare, and it focuses on the use of substances like alcohol, prescription drugs, tobacco and illicit drugs as a coping mechanism. CHW training in substance use includes identifying the causes and signs of substance abuse, educating patients about its negative impacts, and providing resources for safe cessation.
Community Health Workers Are the Stewards of Public Health in Their Communities
As you see, there is a lot that community health workers can do to improve their communities’ health outcomes. They address health inequity and make it possible for vulnerable populations to access the healthcare they need to thrive in the face of countless challenges. They do so by combining theoretical knowledge with practical, culturally-relevant applications that make their lives better.
Enroll your CHW workforce in ongoing and do your part today to improve public health. CHWTraining offers specialized training that dives into the core competencies any CHW needs for a successful program. We also offer comprehensive, topic-specific training in SDOH, Chronic Conditions, and more. So book a consultation now to learn more about what we can do for your team.
CHW Training Subscriptions
CHWTraining’s one-year learning subscriptions are customizable and provide high-quality education to your team. Perfect for training new employees who need core competencies or standardizing training for existing staff — on their own time.