Each represents a distinct domain of scientific, legal or advocacy work necessary for the timely adoption and diffusion of effective legal health interventions. These elements are based on the recognition that public health law is a “transdisciplinary” endeavor – the essential services are not all purely legal, nor are they provided only by lawyers. Instead, researchers and scientists; government officials and practitioners; youth and young adults; business, community, faith and any variety of other leaders may all be involved in any given activity. This endeavor is cross–sectorial as well; the transdisciplinary teams must include those with expertise, methods, tools and perspectives from non-health sectors that impact health.
These essential services do not operate sequentially or in isolation one from the other. Rather, each is informed by and in relationship to the others. In other words, improved public health is reliant on the best available science; the active engagement of community leaders from all walks of life; and the effective use of legal tools to justify and support strategic policy choices, implementation mechanisms and enforcement structures that will ensure health for generations yet to come – and all these elements must be effectively networked to constitute a strategic legal infrastructure for action.
The Five Essential Services were defined by public health law success stories, like that of tobacco control. In the five decades since the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, tobacco control efforts have supported and benefited from a strategic integration of health research, social mobilization, political advocacy, model policy development, litigation, litigation support, and policy surveillance and evaluation. Scientists, advocates and lawyers worked as partners so that advocates could embody a community’s yearning for health, lawyers could translate these yearnings into viable policy opportunities, and researchers could investigate the scientific rational for change and evaluate whether policy strategies were resulting in their intended impact. Successes similar to those in tobacco are just emerging related to childhood obesity prevention after less than a decade of investments. While this kind of strategic coordination among advocates, researchers and lawyers has happened in a handful of priority areas, a similar approach is needed to address health equity and achieve a robust and sustainable culture of health in this nation.
In 2015, five leading public health law organizations met to launch a collective strategic planning initiative to help expand and strengthen the use of public health law and policy to improve community health. The organizations that have informally formed the “Law Partnership” are: ChangeLab Solutions, the Network for Public Health Law, the Public Health Law Center, the Center for Public Health Law Research, and the CDC Public Health Law Program. As the first product of their collective thinking, the Law Partnership developed the Five Essential Public Health Law Services framework to strengthen and chart a future for public health law and policy within a culture of health.