Policy’s promise for fairer health outcomes

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Professor Fran Baum

A new Centre for Research Excellence (CRE) on the Social Determinants of Health Equity, to be launched at Flinders University today (April 24), is dedicated to achieving fairer health outcomes and improving the wellbeing of Australians.

The Centre will be will be launched by former Prime Minister the Hon Julia Gillard.

Supported by National Health and Medical Research Council funding for the next five years, the Centre will be devoted to studying how politicians and policy makers can make fairer health outcomes central to policy and keep Australians healthy. The Centre is addressing the issue that how long we live depends on social and economic factors like quality of jobs, housing, education and extent of inclusion and acceptance in society

Professor Fran Baum, Foundation Director of the Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity at Flinders University, will be co-director of the CRE with Professor Sharon Friel, Director of Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet) at the Australian National University. Both have international reputations in the field of social determinants of health and have held senior advisory roles to the World Health Organisation.

The CRE will have the benefit of national and international expertise through collaboration between researchers at Flinders University, the Australian National University, the University of Ottawa, the University of Sydney, University College London, the University of Oxford, Simon Fraser University (Canada) and the University of New South Wales.

The Centre will have a special focus on the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, whose life expectancy remains 11 years shorter than other Australians.

People on low incomes also lose around five years of life compared to better off Australians, Professor Baum said.

”Government policies directly influence employment, housing, social exclusion, education and income, all of which have major impacts on Australians’ opportunities to lead healthy lives,” Professor Baum said.

“The aim of our activities will be to encourage policy-makers to make positive contributions to the conditions in which Australians live and the opportunities they have to lead a healthy life.”

Professor Friel said that to achieve this goal, a major aspect of the Centre’s work will be to use case-study research to increase awareness of health equity as an issue in political and policy agendas.

”As well as investigating the level of consideration given to the issue of health equity in key economic, social and health policies such as trade, Medicare and Paid Parental Leave, we will explore the ways in which international, national, state and local policies interact in local communities through a case study of the closure of the Holden Plant in northern Adelaide,” Professor Friel said.

At the end of the five-year funding cycle, the Centre aims to have provided a range of evidence on all aspects of the policy cycle and the ways in which policies interact to affect health equity.

“We also hope that policy makers in all sectors will be using our research to inform policy development so that policy is fairer,” Professor Baum said.

A symposium immediately prior to the launch will focus on the value and importance of increased government revenue for action on social determinants of health equity.

Co-hosted with the South Australian Council of Social Service, the main speaker will be Professor Ron Labonte (University of Ottawa), one of the CRE’s Chief Investigators, who will provide a global perspective on taxation policy and health equity.

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