The Definition of Health


The Definition of Health

Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is ‘a condition of full physical, mental and emotional well-being and not just the absence of sickness and disease.’ A wide variety of definitions have previously been used for medical purposes. Currently, however, the most recent definition from the WHO is that health is ‘the proper functioning of body organs and systems in their physiological and pathological conditions.’

This definition includes the definition of illness, which states, ‘A disease is an infection or abnormality that results in damage or loss of body tissue or function.’ Similarly, the definition of disability also includes an illness or a disease that interferes with the normal activities of life, rendering an individual unable to carry out those functions. These definitions are not mutually exclusive, and the definition of disability also incorporates impairment. Thus, persons with impaired ability to perceive, handle, or protect themselves from injury or harm may be considered as suffering from a disability while persons who experience diseases or disorders, like cancer or heart disease, may be considered as having a disability in the scope of the definition of illness or disease.

The challenge for health is to be able to identify the presence of mild, moderate and severe diseases, while at the same time, preventing disability and illness before it starts to take effect. This definition is not only applicable in developing countries but even within developed countries, where access to health care is often not always available. For instance, when a pregnant woman experiences stress because of her pregnancy, there is a clear indication of mental illness, yet this is not diagnosed. Similarly, people who suffer from serious diseases like AIDS, cancer, diabetes and other life threatening diseases, may still go undiagnosed for a long period of time because the symptoms of such diseases are not consistent with physical illnesses and their relationship to the person’s health.