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Experts collaborate to tackle chronic disease

Over 70 of Australia's chronic disease and population health experts took part in this week’s Mitchell Institute policy forum Chronic diseases: the case for changing course. The health forum looked at how to reorient Australia’s response to chronic disease from acute care towards disease prevention. 

Chronic diseases account for most deaths and illnesses in Australia, and result in substantial spending in the health system. Facilitated by respected broadcaster and journalist Geraldine Doogue, the forum explored how Australia could do better than it is at reducing the impact of chronic diseases across the whole of the population.

“Despite very good evidence on causality, risk factors and cost-effective interventions, the Australian investment in prevention remains low,” said Rosemary Calder, director for health policy at the Mitchell Institute. “The orientation of our health policies and the priorities and the related funding arrangements indeed is on a sickness system – which was appropriate to the 19th and perhaps the 20th centuries, but is less relevant to today.”

In 2011, the OECD reported that Australian spending on prevention and public health as a share of total recurrent health spending was 2.0%, much lower than New Zealand (6.4%); Finland (6.1%); Canada (5.9%); and the United States (3.1%).

“We hope that together we will make a start to another level of debate and action to change the health of Australians, to add to what has been done in the past but to take it much further forward,” Rosemary Calder told the forum. “When we look back at where we were with road trauma 40 years ago and where we are today as a result of collective action and leadership by the experts in the field – we can do the same with chronic disease,” she said.

Forum panellists included Dr Erin Lalor, CEO of the National Stroke Foundation, who said the forum highlighted the many opportunities for those organisations that sit outside government to pool resources, in order to progress the chronic disease prevention agenda.

“While we wait for government to act we [can] focus our efforts collectively around a single narrative,” Dr Lalor said. “There is great opportunity for that, especially around measurement and monitoring.” 

Rob Moodie, Professor of Public Health, School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne saw further opportunity for national experts to collaborate. “It is about how we gel in a sufficiently strong way,” he said. “In our groups, in our thinking and in longitudinal coherence as well.”

The valuable information shared by forum participants, together with a positioning paper written by Dr Sharon Willcox, will contribute to a comprehensive policy framework due to be released by the Mitchell Institute in 2015. 

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