Dr Laksmi Govindasamy, PHAA Victoria Branch Committee member
Earlier this month at Victoria’s Parliament House, the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) Victorian branch celebrated the launch of a report that will guide Victoria to a healthier future.
Public Health in Victoria: Ten Successes to Guide a Healthier Future highlights 10 key public and preventive health successes in Victoria and outlines 10 areas where further action is required.
The #Top10Report highlights the essential public health and preventative interventions that have created safer and healthier communities and supported many people in Victoria to live longer and healthier over the past century. These include world-first initiatives like the introduction of tobacco controls, prevention efforts for skin and cervical cancers, accident and injury prevention at work and on our roads, and the formation of a dedicated health promotion organisation, VicHealth.
These successes have resulted from the collaborative efforts of Victorian governments, political leaders, public health researchers, advocates and – most importantly – the Victorian community.
The report also aims to present a plan for how governments can further invest in public health to generate a sustainable, future-oriented Victorian health system and improve the health of all people in Victoria.
The report launch, sponsored by the Hon Andy Meddick MP (Member for Western Victoria) and moderated by PHAA VIC’s President, Dr Anna Nicholson, was attended by various politicians. Special guest speakers included:
- Hon Nicola Roxon, former Attorney-General of Australia and Chair of the VicHealth Board
- Hon Ted Baillieu AO, former Premier of Victoria
- Hon John Thwaites AM, former Deputy Premier of Victoria
- PHAA Chief Executive Adjunct Professor Terry Slevin
The event recording is available here.
Nicola Roxon and John Thwaites reflected on the challenges they navigated in initiating legislative changes to support tobacco control, which has had a lasting legacy for community wellbeing. However, as reflected in the report, the work to limit tobacco exposure should not be considered complete. The rise of e-cigarettes and vaping, particularly among young people, emphasises the importance of ongoing public health efforts.
As noted by Ted Baillieu, notwithstanding the importance of the public health successes selected by PHAA Victoria’s Expert Panel for the #Top10 Report, there are a wealth of other Victorian public health successes worthy of celebration. Mr Baillieu said that these include efforts in the building industry around asbestos management and cladding controls. He also suggested online safety, the built environment and air pollution as future public health priorities, in addition to those outlined in the report. The former premier also emphasised the importance of bipartisan approaches to progress public health priorities that benefit all Victorians.
Former Fed Health minister and Vichealth Chair Nicola Roxon passes on her message @PhaaVic Launch as does former Vic Premier Ted Baillieu. Support for public health comes from across the political divide @_PHAA_ pic.twitter.com/QrKKv1dTFF
— Terry Slevin (@terryslevin) August 3, 2022
Despite significant public health achievements, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges for public health in Victoria, and called attention to existing issues.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us where the gaps are and highlighted the need for greater investment in preventive public health,” PHAA Victoria President, Dr Nicholson, said. Dr Nicholson stressed that increased investment will help “create a nimbler, stronger, and more sustainable health system that can withstand future challenges.”
“These 10 challenges include embedding diversity, equity and inclusion in all policies, acting on climate change and its impact on health, and enacting mental health system reform. Doing so means we must shift the health system and health budget towards prevention, and increase investment in preventive health to 5 per cent of total health expenditure by 2030 from the current 2 per cent.
“That will bring Victoria in line with the National Preventive Health Strategy 2021–2030 released last year, and make a real difference to current and future generations.”
Currently, Victoria’s investment in public health is only about 2% of the health budget, with no overall growth over time. At the same time, Victoria’s total health expenditure is trending up in an unsustainable manner.
As Adjunct Professor Slevin noted, public health interventions have a tangible impact in reducing demand for health services. He acknowledged the persisting confusion between public health and public hospital services, though the two are intertwined.
“When public health fails, we put pressure on our public hospital system,” Adj Prof Slevin said. “One in four of the people admitted to hospital today in Victoria, that hospital admission could have been prevented if we got public health right.”
Victoria’s public hospital services continue to face unsustainably high strain, both directly related to COVID-19 and indirectly through delayed care. With the additions of an ageing population and the rise of non-communicable diseases, there has perhaps never been a stronger basis for investing in public health and preventative action to support all in Victoria to live longer and healthier lives.
Learn more about the PHAA Victoria Branch here.