Public Health Association of BC Public Health Association of BC

Great Ideas Have Long Lives

By Ted Bruce

The election is over and, as they say, the hard work starts. The spin doctors, backroom strategists, pundits and pollsters take a break and the world of policy development and advocacy carry on. Policies that are essential to improve the health of the population require a long and sustained effort. Public health policy work is arduous and although there are quick wins for the most part the complex web of causality requires multiple policy and program interventions implemented over a long time. And often efforts must push against countervailing forces that at times seem insurmountable.

But they are not insurmountable and the ideas behind population health are not easily dismissed. Social justice, fairness, health and wellbeing are foundational to the notion of reducing health inequities and preventing disease before it sets its roots.

The election campaign proved an opportunity to raise awareness of health inequities and the importance of poverty reduction and disease prevention. In looking at the election campaigns, political party platforms and the media and political dialogue, there was certainly considerable interest in the idea of poverty reduction. Although there was not agreement on the policies needed to reduce it, it is safe to say that it will likely maintain momentum as a post election topic. The need for a new prevention paradigm for health care did not get much discussion. Clearly, public health has a way to go to captivate the political dialogue on that issue.

This is not new. These issues have been at the forefront of public health for a long time and will continue so. Why? In part because the alleviation of human suffering and the promotion of health and well being are central to public health and the root causes of health inequities must be a central focus if public health is to be successful in its mission to improve health for all citizens – not just some citizens. And the policy agenda is complex. The solutions require a huge paradigm shift in a policy environment that has diminished the valuing of public services and has emphasized individualism over collective action. And they require considerable vision and commitment on the part of government and non-governmental leaders. Election time is a window to push for that vision. Post election is a time to continue to educate the public, to bring the evidence forward to the decision-makers and to do the hard work of policy change.

PHABC’s website for the election has some great resources for the continuing dialogue about health inequities, poverty reduction and disease prevention. PHABC has had considerable feedback that an on-line toolkit and the social media campaign were an effective contributor to the dialogue on public health. As co-chair of the PHABC Policy Advocacy Committee, I know this strategy will continue.

Change does not come easy. There are risks associated with change but great ideas deserve risks.  Health and well being for all citizens, social justice and public health – these are great ideas. Elections come and go. Great ideas have long lives.

– Ted Bruce is the past-president of the PHABC