Epidemiology is considered to be the cornerstone of public health, enabling the study of distribution patterns that assist with identifying the determinants of health and disease conditions. This allows for more informed health policies and the possible control of diseases and health risks. Data analysis and statistics from studies that model the spread of disease drive policy decisions globally.
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A large example of this can be seen within the coronavirus 2019 pandemic (COVID-19) as knowing the location of the first incidence which occurred in Wuhan, China, enabled the government and health ministers to make decisions about how to control the spread of the infection. It also informed the hospitals of their triage strategies and how to effectively handle the infectious rates and the high volume of patients.
The influence of epidemiology on policies
The frequency, disease statistics, and pattern of events, which is characterized under the umbrella of epidemiology, is significant for general health as it focuses research, contextualizes diagnoses, and limits disease within a population.
By understanding how many people have a certain disease or disorder, and the level of occurrence, informed decisions can be made upon how a particular disorder affects society as well as the economy.
The global number of confirmed coronavirus cases, as of 13th September 2021, stands at approximately, 224,322,500, and due to the high transmissibility of this virus, governments were able to enforce health warnings and isolation rules.
These health warnings from majorly infected countries influenced other countries to go into early lockdown to prevent the spread of the infection; the first national lockdown was enforced in England, UK in late March 2020. Additionally, mandates such as social distancing, mask-wearing, and reducing non-essential outings are examples of policy decisions that were all utilized during the pandemic.
The effect on medical research
By assessing the likelihood, frequency, and severity of diseases and disorders, the chance of limiting the infection is higher and more controlled. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 virus as a pandemic on 12th March 2020. This impacted the public health policies in other countries who were then more informed and prepared for the spread of the infection into their populations.
The effect of epidemiologic research, which analyzed the severity of the severe acute coronavirus 2019 (SARS-CoV-2) virus through disease models and statistical analysis, also informed the focus point of researchers. This enabled researchers and pharmaceutical companies to start researching this contagious virus to gain a better understanding of side effects, pathology, and cell signaling pathways.
By gaining clarity on the significance of the spike protein which is integral to the transmission of the virus into the host cell, researchers were able to find effective targets within the virus to neutralize it.
A key feature of epidemiology is the measurement of disease outcomes within a population, and this critical research has enabled the development of therapeutics and vaccines which decrease risk as well as aid in disease prevention. This led to an important health policy that prioritized the elderly and those with co-morbidities first for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines.
The significance of epidemiology is also continuous as it ensures diseases and disorders are monitored constantly, assessing their progression over time, this allows understanding of the impact it will have on a population. In the case of the coronavirus pandemic, epidemiological research enables understanding of the mutability of the virus, with novel variants wreaking havoc worldwide.
The use of statistics, probability, and the R-value assess the ability of a disease to spread. The R-value refers to the approximate number of people to whom an infected individual will pass the virus. This rating and assessment aid policy decisions within different populations depending on the number of cases and the level of concern about infectious rates.
The latest R-value within England, UK is 0.9 to 1.1, which translates to, every 10 infected people having the ability to infect between 9 and 11 people, on average.
Importance of epidemiology for health
Epidemiology and statistics hold a significant role in health and disease, and ultimately aid in decreasing risk and ensuring disease control within populations, influencing medical support to enable a better quality of life. Nature has referred to epidemiology as ‘a science of high importance’.
The CDC, Center for Disease Control, an organization that exists to investigate disease for the prevention and protection of the population, has also concurred on the significance of epidemiology. The study of disease origin and the cause of disease in a community through scientific investigation allows various professionals, such as epidemiologists, laboratory scientists, statisticians, and more, to work together for a common goal.
The importance of this field of study can be seen with its widespread use within general health as well as highly infectious diseases. The incidence of diseases, disorders, or even cancer within a population may require analysis which then influences health policies. An example of this includes cervical smear testing which is provided by healthcare systems for women aged between 25 and 64, to prevent or reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
Without the use of statistical analysis and epidemiological research, conclusions about health risks would be inaccurate. This field of study directly impacts everyday life as a method of understanding how political, social, and scientific factors can contribute to and influence the risk of disease. Ultimately, the significance of this is in how these key variables can be used effectively to reduce disease and optimize the quality of health.
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- Cdc.gov. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/eis/downloads/epidemiology-factsheet.pdf> [Accessed 14 September 2021].
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- Nature, 2021. How epidemiology has shaped the COVID pandemic. [online] 589(7843), pp.491-492. Available at: <https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00183-z>.
- Nature Communications, 2018. Epidemiology is a science of high importance. [online] 9(1). Available at: <https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-04243-3#citeas> [Accessed 14 September 2021].