What do Australia’s COVID-19 policy responses REALLY mean for health? – Health News Today

Introduction by Croakey: While so much of the discussion about Australia’s response to COVID-19 has focused on the health, disability and aged care systems, a new report suggests we should be talking much more about the health impacts of wider policy responses.

The report from the Menzies Centre for Health Governance at the Australian National University investigates the likely impacts on health equity of 156 specific policy measures introduced by Federal and State/Territory Governments.

The findings highlight an urgent need to focus on improving policies across key social determinants of health equity, including employment, income, cost of living, education, housing and infrastructure.

“Governing going forward requires a new social compact, supported by a national, whole-of-government health equity strategy,” the report’s lead author, Professor Sharon Friel, writes below.

The report will be officially released tomorrow, Thursday, 27 August, and discussed at a webinar (Thursday, 27 August, from 12.30-1.30pm AEST), where Melissa Sweet will live-tweet the discussions for the Croakey Conference News Service. Follow #Govern4Health and this Twitter list of participants.

Sharon Friel writes:

COVID-19 will likely widen the already widening health inequities in Australia. People experiencing poverty, precarious employment, high levels of existing debt, homelessness, and poor access to quality health and social services are already socially marginalised, financially stressed and experiencing little sense of control over their lives.

These populations will disproportionately feel the impacts of this pandemic on their physical and mental health now and into the future without appropriate government intervention.

COVID-19 highlights the critical need to address the social determinants of health inequities – the conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work, and age, and which are shaped by structural drivers of power, money, and resources. These factors are very much influenced by public policy well beyond the health sector.

The Australian Government, like many governments worldwide, introduced multiple policies aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, and economic stabilisation and recovery.

During the period 12 March to 16 June 2020, 156 policy measures were introduced by the Federal and State/Territory Governments. Most responses focus on economic stability through matters of employment, income and cost of living, but the spread of policies includes education, housing, infrastructure, and community services.

If we are to prevent a massive widening in health inequities going forward, it is vital to pay attention to the health and social equity implications of such policies.

In the Menzies Centre for Health Governance report, titled Australian COVID-19 policy responses: Good for health equity or a missed opportunity?, we examined Australian Federal and State/Territory Government policy responses to the 2020 COVID-19…