The Definition of Health and Illness

Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a state of full physical, emotional and social well being and not just the absence of sickness and disease. Over the years various definitions have also been used for diverse purposes. However, the WHO has remained on track with its statement of priority of maintaining a healthy environment in which to live and participate in. This includes ensuring that the conditions of health are not only maintained but also progressed to the greatest degree possible. This calls for a change in the way many people approach health.


The medical model of well-being has been in vogue for some time now and is still widely used. According to this model, sickness is just an inevitable part of life and no longer a serious threat to one’s well being; instead it is treatable. The medical model of well-being as something that can be avoided or delayed or simply ignored, is no longer acceptable. A better way of thinking about health and illness is by defining it as a human right – something that every person should be entitled to regardless of their age, economic status and the social position they occupy. As such, the concept of defining health and illness as something that can be postponed or treated is not an accurate reflection of how we see and treat health.

The challenge of today is to find ways in which to provide healthcare services that maintain and advances wellbeing for all. Some people focus on improving the general health and well being of the individual. Others work towards promoting wellness in the communities in which they serve. The best way forward for the promotion of wellbeing is by promoting wellness as a public health objective – one that is capable of achieving meaningful and long term effects even in the face of budgetary constraints. This will require an increased commitment by health service providers to quality improvement and a greater awareness of the dual responsibility that they carry in the promotion and maintenance of good health.