Leadership and the prevention of chronic disease

The coronavirus pandemic has put a strain on the publc health system and emphasised the differences in state and national approaches in prevention strategy.

The importance of leadership in prevention has never been more obvious then at this time of COVID-19. For months now hard decisions have been made every day on the basis of incomplete information to prevent and control COVID-19 infections in our community.

The hard yards involved is etched in the faces of every chief health officer or senior public health official around the country making public appearances to explain the decisions and to urge the community to follow the prevention advice.

“It is extra-ordinary times in public health and it has called on extra-ordinary public health leadership.”

Professor Andrew Wilson

Behind doors there have been hard discussions with fellow public health practitioners trying to achieve consensus approach for a country where rates of infection vary so greatly, and of balancing those preferred positions with the practical politics of dealing with a pandemic that has caused economic disaster.

National unity even in prevention strategy was never going to be easy to maintain in a federation but even harder as the impacts drag on and passions rise on every side.

And then there is the constant stream of expert commentators. The best have helped make the public better informed and contributed to a healthy discussion of prevention and control options in a media environment that wants to fill every moment with some morsel – really detailed minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow, in live columns, broadcast and podcasts.

Then there are the uninformed commentators whose polarising views add to community angst and add an additional load on those same public health leaders who have to publicly refute those views.  

I for one didn’t ever imagine that the strengths and weaknesses of modelling the pandemic and of control measures would be frontpage news, yet there they are as a nation learns that models can be informative but are never perfect.  

It is extra-ordinary times in public health and it has called on extra-ordinary public health leadership. We don’t have to agree with every action that they have to make or defend but we can offer our support to the superhuman effort they undertaking for our community, and observe and learn from their experience for the long-term betterment of prevention.