The public health system in Australia is one of the best among advanced nations in the world. It is to the credit of the Australian public health system that it ranks above the U.S.A. and U.K. in terms of efficiency, competence and overall health outcomes. Yet, there have also been some lingering issues which have not found satisfactory redress so far. Foremost among them is the inability of the public health system to reduce occurrences of arthritic and musculoskeletal conditions, cancer and mental illness among the general population. On the administrative side, the public health authorities are confronted with the issue of finding qualified doctors and nurses to fill several vacancies. Moreover, there is the issue of aborigine health, which is beset by racial and ethnic prejudices. This is largely due to socio-historical injustices and hence an effective remedy is likely to take the form of a social recompense program, granting aborigines higher priority in all public institutions. The Conservatives’ opposition to stem-cell research is another serious issue upon which rests the future of healthcare in Australia. Admittedly, these issues are not unique to Australia, but no comprehensive policy initiatives have been taken to tackle these problems. In this context, the public health authorities have to regroup and come up with more potent strategies in addressing the issues. Moreover, they need to identify major challenges facing public healthcare and come up with satisfactory answers. A list of six such questions is stated below.
1. The health and well being of aborigines are relatively worse than the rest of the population. But, in spite of granting equal rights to the aborigines a few decades ago, they continue to lag behind the rest of the population in measures of socio-economic parameters and overall health and well being. Why has the public health system failed in this area?
2. The prevailing fertility rates among Australians along with empirical data suggest that the percentage of senior citizens will increase substantially over the next few decades. This means that more healthcare professionals specializing in palliative care and hospice services will be required in the future. But on evidence gathered from government reports no plan of action has been made so far toward meeting this end. Why is this so?
3. According to Emily Banks of The Australian National University and Institute for Health Research, “Currently over half the adult Australian population is overweight or obese, with the most recent measured data finding that 48% of men and 30% of women overweight but not obese, 19% of men and 22% of women aged 25 and over are obese.” (Banks, www. nfaw.org, 2009) Why has the public health system failed to prevent this crisis?
4. On the political front there is considerable opposition to stem-cell research from the Conservatives. Experiments on animals have convincingly proven the merits associated with the stem-cell approach in preventing and curing certain class of illnesses. Yet the lack of political will to embrace this new vista in medical science poses a serious challenge to the well being of future generations of Australians. What measures have been taken to support and encourage stem-cell research?
5. The following illnesses have been given high priority status by health agencies, namely asthma, cardiovascular illnesses, diabetes mellitus, mental health problems, arthritis, cancer and musculoskeletal problems. What measures have been taken to screen, prevent and cure these conditions?
6. The upkeep and maintenance of patient medical records has become a specialized area in itself. The sheer volume of health related information, the technologies supporting these databases, are changing and evolving at a rapid pace. What steps have been taken to incorporate and standardize new technologies?
1. Banks, Emily, Key Future Health Challenges for Australia, The Australian National University and Institute for Health Research, retrieved from <http://nfaw.org/assets/Socialpolicy/Health/emilybanks.pdf.> on 5th September, 2009.
2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2004. Australia’s Health 2004. Canberra: AIHW
3. Major National Health Issues, retrieved from <http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/publications/synopses/_files/strat_plan0709_04.pdf.> on 5th September, 2009.