How to prepare for the next pandemic - Grattan Institute

There are many important public health measures needed to prepare for the next pandemic, such as developing an advanced surveillance system, and preparing emergency management capabilities and the tools needed to support decisions about public health restrictions. However, this submission focuses on something that is just as important, but which is more likely to be overlooked: improving prevention and primary care systems to make Australia fairer and more resilient.

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While Australia’s overall health outcomes during the COVID pandemic were better than those in many other countries, there were still huge disparities. Disadvantaged Australians fell behind at every stage: they had lower vaccination rates, fewer antiviral treatments, and higher risk of death.

Sadly, this didn’t come as a surprise. These health gaps existed before the pandemic and remain today: poorer Australians, people living in regional and remote areas, and Indigenous Australians are more likely to smoke and have a poor diet, suffer from chronic illness, miss out on healthcare, and die younger.

The federal government must urgently push to close these health gaps before the next pandemic. Otherwise, Australia’s chronic disease burden will continue to grow, with some communities much sicker than others. That will mean more sickness and death from a future pandemic, and greater risk of the health system being overwhelmed.

If we wait for the next pandemic, it will be too late to ensure fair outcomes. Australia must build a strong and equitable health system now, and have systems ready to go when the next crisis comes.

There is no silver bullet, but our submission outlines three ways the government should strengthen the health system to minimise the burden in any future pandemic on the most disadvantaged.

First, chronic diseases need to be reduced, so people can better withstand the health impacts of a novel pathogen. This will require governments investing more in prevention programs, particularly in disadvantaged communities. The new Australian Centre for Disease Control (ACDC) should factor inequalities into its work and decisions.

Second, the primary care system needs to better manage chronic conditions. Reforms are underway, but more are needed. The funding model should be adjusted to patient need, and federal and state governments should co-commission services in rural areas to ensure patients can get the care they need.

Third, Australia’s vaccination system needs to be strengthened to ensure that everyone can get rapid access to vaccines that reduce the risks of infection and illness before being infected, and any treatments that reduce those risks after being infected.

Peter Breadon

Health Program Director
Peter Breadon is the Health Program Director at Grattan Institute. He has worked in a wide range of senior policy and operational roles in government, most recently as Deputy Secretary of Reform and Planning at the Victorian Department of Health.

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