Quantitative assessment: health & wellbeing

Victoria University has consolidated its research activity.

From 2018 research of the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies (VISES) is located within the Institute Sustainable Industries & Liveable Cities.

Quantitative assessment of large-scale interventions to improve health & wellbeing

Health has complex but pervasive linkages to individual wellbeing and to the viability of communities across the life cycle. After many decades of medical innovation, powerful knowledge resources are available to further transform population health.

The main goals of this program are:

  • to develop and apply better methods for assessing the full economic and social benefits of large-scale programs of health intervention both in individual countries and across groups of countries
  • to work with major partners to apply these methods to measure the returns on investment in such interventions.

Initially, we have focused on developing countries, but these methods also have applications to important issues in developed countries such as Australia.

Our partners

Our partners in this work include the following organisations:

  • APEC Life Sciences Health Innovation Forum (LSIF)
  • World Health Organisation (WHO)
  • United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • US Chamber of Commerce
  • APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC)
  • US PhRMA (the US industry body)
  • China National Health Development Research Center.

Returns to investment in health

Following research prepared for the APEC LSIF, the aim of this project is to assess the returns to investment in health. This has attracted international attention, reflecting the uniqueness of its approach and its potential to help guide decision makers in comparing investment in health with alternative investments, such as those in physical assets. It also has applications in comparing the value of different health interventions in treating different diseases.

We have developed the modelling capacity to assess these returns to investing in health and facilitate the application of the models constructed to a range of diseases, with a particular focus on the treatment of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

We produced a study with the World Health Organization and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child (PMNCH) on the returns to large-scale investments in reproductive, maternal and child health for a large number of countries. Research was published in The Lancet, 'Advancing social and economic development by investing in women's and children's health: A new global investment framework’ (Stenberg et al. 2014). Sheehan, Rasmussen and Sweeny were co-authors.

A more recent project on Investment in Improving Health, Education and other Outcomes for Adolescents was funded by the UNFPA, where we examined investments in health of adolescents in countries of low income, lower-middle income, and upper-middle income to derive estimates of investment returns. Research results were published in The Lancet, ‘Building the foundations for sustainable development: A case for global investment in the capabilities of adolescents’ (Sheehan, Rasmussen, Sweeny et al. April 2017).

Key researchers

Professor Peter Sheehan, Research Director, VISES
Dr Kim Sweeny, Principal Research Fellow, VISES
Professor Bruce Rasmussen, Director, VISES

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) life sciences

The Life Sciences Innovation Forum (LSIF) was established by APEC Leaders in 2002 as a tri-partite forum (government, industry, and academia) to develop and implement a strategic plan for life sciences innovation in the region that would address health challenges.

The Forum was launched in 2003 with an Executive Board of high-level experts from government, academia and industry led by the then Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand. That year, Peter Sheehan was given the role Co-Chair (Academic) of the LSIF. VISES (previously CSES) prepared various framework papers for APEC LSIF meetings.

When the LSIF was launched, Peter Sheehan was elected Co-Chair (Academic) of the LSIF. In August 2017, Peter Sheehan resigned from the role and Bruce Rasmussen was elected Co-Chair (Academic).

Bruce Rasmussen is currently working with the LSIF executive board to establish a dialogue in innovative health financing mechanisms with APEC senior finance officials and their Finance Ministers.


The report Investing in Maternal, Newborn and Child Health: Analysis of the Costs, Benefits and Returns (Sheehan, Rasmussen, Sweeny, 2012) was prepared for the APEC LSIF High Level Meeting on Health and the Economy (St Petersburg, 27 June 2012). Further research is listed in the project ‘Returns to investment in health’ below.

In 2008, a report on the economics of a large increase in health investment in developing countries titled Investing in the Future: An Assessment of the Returns to Investment in Health Innovation (Sheehan, Rasmussen, Sweeny et al. 2008) was discussed at the Sixth Annual LSIF meeting in Lima, Peru in 2008 and in Singapore in 2009; its conclusions were endorsed by the APEC Leaders in Santiago in late 2008. Co-author was Professor Xiaoying Zheng of Peking University.

In 2006, a framework paper titled Sustainable Health Care Systems to Support Innovation was prepared for the Fourth Annual APEC Life Science Innovation Forum (LSIF IV), Hoi An, Vietnam, 6-7 September 2006 (Sheehan, Rasmussen, Sweeny, 2006).

Key researchers

Professor Bruce Rasmussen, Director, VISES
Dr Kim Sweeny, Principal Research Fellow, VISES
Professor Peter Sheehan, Research Director, VISES, and Project Leader

Health & productivity

This research area, funded by the US Chamber of Commerce and APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), is ongoing.

It focuses on the review of pension systems and generating likely scenarios modelled to determine:

  • the effect of reducing early retirement due to ill health
  • the economic cost due to productivity losses arising from absenteeism, presenteeism.


Key researchers

Professor Bruce Rasmussen, Director, VISES
Dr Kim Sweeny, Principal Research Fellow, VISES
Professor Peter Sheehan, Research Director, VISES

Mental health & NCDs

With funding from the WHO, research was conducted on the global investment case for a scaled-up response to the public health and economic burden of depression and anxiety disorders. This project was undertaken in collaboration with the Trimbos Institute, Utrecht, and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, both in The Netherlands. Results were published in ‘Scaling-up treatment of depression and anxiety: A global return on investment analysis’ (Chisholm, Sweeny, Sheehan, Rasmussen et al., Lancet Psychiatry 2016).

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) and Mitchell Institute funded a study to estimate various economic impacts of the combined burden of co-morbid physical and chronic mental illnesses for Australia and New Zealand: The Economic Cost of Serious Mental Illness and Comorbidities in Australia and New Zealand, (Sweeny, Shi, RANZCP 2016).

A previous study funded by the WHO used the OneHealth Tool, and cardiovascular disease cost and impact modules to calculate the health benefits and costs of scaling up a package of prevention and treatment interventions for CVD from 2015-2030. Results have been submitted to The Lancet ‘Investing in non-communicable diseases: Estimation of the economic and social benefits of scaled-up systems and services’ (Bertram, Sweeny, et al. 2015).

Key researchers

Dr Kim Sweeny, Principal Research Fellow, VISES
Professor Peter Sheehan, Research Director, VISES
Professor Bruce Rasmussen, Director, VISES

Pharmaceutical industry project

Insights gained in this project were used to inform the development of policy options to help address the identified pricing, regulatory and industry development issues of the pharmaceutical industry.


Report to Medicines Australia: The Impact of Further PBS Reforms (Sweeny, May 2013)

Contact us

For more information about 'Quantitative assessment of large-scale interventions to improve health and wellbeing' projects, contact Professor Peter Sheehan.

Phone: +61 3 9919 1341
Email: [email protected]