Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a condition of “full physical, emotional and social well being” and not just the absence of sickness and disease. Different definitions have been applied to the term over the years. Health is considered to be subjective and individual, where a person’s value as a human being is evaluated based on his health status. In general, health means the ability to live life comfortably, to enjoy life and to contribute something meaningful to society. It also includes the physical environment, the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure a healthy existence, the willingness to cooperate in maintaining it and the willingness to share its benefits with others.
Older adults are usually those who have experienced more than the average amount of stress in their lives. Therefore, it is not surprising that they suffer from different kinds of diseases, some of which are very common and even potentially fatal. These include coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, HIV and AIDS, osteoporosis, stroke, cancer, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, COPD, tuberculosis, osteoarthritis, cancer blindness, back pain, insomnia and other chronic disorders. To put it simply, good health is important to all the members of the public.
The problem is that the definition of “good health” has become controversial over the years. The definition given by the WHO is based on the care of people with common diseases, without neglecting other possible emergencies or threats. It thus includes the avoidance of diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, HIV, AIDS and other opportunistic infections; access to healthcare and death prevention through vaccination and treatments. However, some experts argue that a better definition should include common, preventable illnesses, and be expanded to include the missing persons with disabilities caused by disasters, migration, natural calamities and genetic disorders.
According to the second definition, health is the absence of diseases or health-threatening risks. This second definition emphasizes the priority given to immediate survival. Thus, it includes fatalities, acute and chronic diseases, disabilities, infections and accidents. In addition, this definition excludes death due to socio-economic factors such as poverty, lack of income, social isolation and lack of basic facilities. The absence of any of these could be cause for concern. For example, if no one is aware of the outbreak of a deadly disease, such as AIDS, and if no treatment can be had for such a disease within days, it would fall under the category of “excess of mortality due to non-prevention.”
The WHO also defines prevention as the act or attempt to control or reduce the risk of becoming infected with a disease. Therefore, any death due to lack of preventative measures could also be considered as an “excess of mortality due to non-prevention.” Another issue that arises when diseases are included in the definitions is the element of privacy. Public health professionals are required to report any new development regarding any type of disease, so that people can be educated on how to prevent the spread of a particular disease.
Prevention is a two-edged sword, as it requires sacrifice on the part of individuals and their families. However, it also requires a large investment in resources for disease control and elimination. The debate on the definition of health has been rekindled by the alarming rates of increase in chronic diseases among older adults. This has also resulted in an increase in the demand for improved life course choices to fight this disease and continue with a healthy and quality of life.