Public health refers to health care and health promotion that targets a whole population or a particular group within the population. While public health does not directly involve the provision of medical care to individuals, the WMA stresses the important role of physicians in addressing public health issues. Physicians have the responsibility to care for individual health while maintaining an awareness of public health issues and promoting public health. The WMA insists that public health should not be seen in isolation, as it is intrinsically linked to individual health, health care and medical care. The WMA advocates for the development of integrated health care systems in which both public health and individual health can be addressed. High quality primary, secondary and tertiary care are fundamental to an effective health care system. A failure at any of these levels could result in serious threats to public health. Air travel between regions and continents, the outbreaks of HIV/AIDS, the return of tuberculosis, the persistence of malaria and the occurrence of SARS and pandemic flu have illustrated that public health knowledge is more important than ever. The International Health Regulations of the World Health Organization establish a mandatory system of mutual information and alertness to help fight and contain communicable disease outbreaks.
As opposed to in the past, when public health focused mostly on communicable diseases and sanitation, modern public health incorporates a variety of general health determinants and focuses on health promotion and preventative action. Public health is heavily influenced by a number of social factors and should therefore be approached from a broad perspective. A comprehensive public health approach should take into consideration all social determinants of health, non-communicable disease and lifestyle, in addition to the traditional elements of communicable diseases and sanitation. Currently, in the field of public health, the WMA is involved in pandemic control, tobacco control, the harmful use of alcohol, nutrition, obesity and physical inactivity and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.