Dr Peter Tait responds to PHAA CEO’s piece on COVID-19

Coronovirus-19 by CDC/Unsplash

Dr Peter Tait, PHAA member

In a recent blog post (Intouch, July 17) PHAA CEO Terry Slevin responds to those wondering what PHAA is doing about COVID-19. He argues PHAA is doing quite a lot with the resources it has, and suggests we should continue what we are already doing well and are good at. The piece concludes with a list of these things.

He also raises questions about what we know and how strong the evidence base for that is. He argues that this makes deciding on a course of action difficult.

I agree with what he says.

He also reports he cannot see any influence of commercial entities at work in the government’s response. I think there is quite a lot of evidence for commercial entities directing the policy of the previous federal government which has carried over to this one. The composition of the committee set up to oversee the COVID-19 recovery being mainly from the corporate sector and the campaigns featuring cafe owners lobbying to save their businesses are two examples.

However, I think there is another dimension for PHAA to consider. That is the role of a peak public health organisation in a pandemic where there are knowledge gaps about the best course of action, but there’s enough evidence from many public health and infectious disease experts that more action than is being undertaken is required to prevent extra deaths and sequalae such as the various forms of long COVID.

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of those big hazards that requires a strong government response to save lives and reduce the burden of disease and disability. We do not know the mid- to longer-term outcomes and this suggests a precautionary approach is needed. Primary and secondary preventive activity is the necessary public health response.

We are experiencing governance failure on so many fronts and someone needs to be calling out the emperor’s nakedness.

Terry says, as one thing PHAA does well: “Our focus is instead to exercise our influence on governments, policy makers, professional groups.”

So, what PHAA could do within its resources is to change the conversation both privately to the federal government and as possible to the wider community. This may be largely symbolic, but it is an important role for critical friends to do. Who else has the clout to ask government to change course? It may not be effective, but not doing this work is definitively not going to effect change. At a point in history where preventive action is essential, how can we not take on this role?

I am interested to know what others in PHAA and the public health community think.


Dr Peter Tait




Image: CDC/Unsplash

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