Australia’s major virus weakness revealed
As the battle against coronavirus in Australia continues, an expert says the pandemic has exposed major weaknesses in our health system.
With tomorrow marking six months since Health Minister Greg Hunt announced Australia had recorded its first case of COVID-19, the Public Health Association Australia has reflected on what we've learned so far.
Chief executive Terry Slevin said the pandemic had "revealed major weaknesses in our armour".
"In particular a dramatic under-investment in public health which has found us wanting in many areas of our response," he said.
"Public and preventive health attracts less than two per cent of Australia's national health investment - which tops $185 billion per annum.
"We are also the only OECD country without a centralised communicable disease and public health agency.
"The even greater imperative is, how much larger a health workforce do we need, across all governments, to be confident that we can keep Australians safe?"
Mr Slevin said COVID-19 had highlighted a number of vulnerabilities, including our lack of investment in specialist doctors.
"In 2019, Australia supported 1057 specialist doctor training positions and only 27 of those were public health doctors," he said.
"Similarly, in rallying to the national COVID response, our wafer-thin line of public health workers and experts have had to abandon their important lifesaving work in areas like cancer screening, immunisation and nutrition.
"They have been magnificent, yet stretched to breaking point."
Mr Slevin said as Australia entered the next and challenging stage of the "COVID wars" it was timely for governments to urgently review the resources being put into the battle.
"How prepared are we for the next and future, as yet unknown battlegrounds?," he asked.
"In contrast to other nations, Australians have largely invested their faith and trust in our governments and our experts.
"And we need to work to keep that trust, and reinforce the safest behaviours. Without that
cooperation, many, many more of us would have fallen ill, and many more lives would have been lost."
Mr Slevin said the past six months had shown we had outstanding international leaders in public health.
"We've seen them on our screens daily over the last six months, and in the main we have all heeded their advice," he said.
"But facing this battle, they need reinforcements, and they should not be taking on this fight on the smell of an oily rag.
"It is accepted that COVID-19 is a long way from over, and the prospect of similar future viral outbreaks is very real, even likely.
"So, we now need to urgently consider how we boost our capacity to deal with the future of this virus, and plan for the prospects of the next."
Originally published as Australia's major virus weakness revealed