These past few months have thrown a giant spotlight onto the importance of public health and preventive medicine. While the global coronavirus pandemic continues to have devastating impacts in many countries, emerging in Australia is a nervous but palpable and growing sense of relief that we may have avoided the worst. This has happened largely because of early public health action and preventive measures.
Preventive health is often an invisible ‘behind the scenes’ activity, particularly when it works. It can be challenging to communicate what you have prevented when the outcomes feared don’t eventuate. But this time we are witness on a daily basis to the horrifying COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates around the world and reflect on the contrast of Australia’s experience.
All of us feel great appreciation for the incredible work of our health sector partners in leading the response, and for the wider preventive community who have contributed valuable skills and expertise to dealing with the crisis. We are also witnessing the political side of public health; the balancing of actions to prevent COVID-19 with the economic consequences – reflecting the tensions between individual freedoms and constraints for public interest.
Since last weekend many of us have been able to make our first tentative visits to family and friends. It is likely that soon a growing number of organisations will begin to discuss the timing of staff returning to the office. Yet this remains an anxious time for all. As governments debate the pros and cons of different timetables for relaxing the current restrictions, these decisions must be guided by the emerging scientific evidence and ongoing expert health advice.
It is imperative to remember how much the health and economic impacts of this pandemic have disproportionately affected some of the poorest and most disadvantaged groups. We sincerely hope that the post-pandemic response will help to redress the health and economic inequalities that are apparent around the world – including in Australia.