Justice, Opportunity and Shared Wealth for all South Australians

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The health of South Australians: it’s a sick joke!

Our 3-point plan for a health turnaround through prevention and promotion

With South Australians sicker than ever, our public health consortium has launched a 3-point plan to restore our position as a leader in community health, and to boost our longevity, health outcomes and quality of life.

In the lead-up to the South Australian election in March, the South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) has joined forces with the Public Health Association Australia (PHAA), the Australian Health Promotion Association (AHPA), Anti-Poverty Network SA and the People’s Health Movement to highlight the need for urgent action and a prioritising of health spending towards disease prevention.

Some sobering facts:

  • 78% of SA adults aged 55-64 years are overweight or obese
  • Australia spends less than 2% of our health budget on prevention. In contrast, Canada and New Zealand spend around 6%
  • 1 in every 2 Australians have at least one prominent chronic condition
  • Chronic conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes are largely preventable 
  • More than 1 in 3 potentially preventable hospitalisations in Australia are linked to chronic disease 
  • There is also inequality in health, with people in lower socio-economic groups experiencing higher rates of illness and disability.

SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley says, “Since 2011-12, South Australia has seen an $18M budget cut, resulting in a slashing of health promotion programs and positions. Instead, we’ve seen increasing emphasis on acute hospital services.”

“In his most recent report, SA's chief adviser on medicine and public health highlights the need to reorient services towards disease prevention:
    “If we are to make an impact on addressing the pressures facing our health system, then now, more than ever, a much stronger focus and investment is required on prevention… More than ever we need evidence-based approaches to address the environments and conditions that cause us to get sick in the first place in order to keep people healthier and out of hospital.  This cannot be achieved by the health system alone...A state of prevention is now critical”.1
- SA's Chief Public Health Officer 

Please note that The Public Health Act (2011) establishes the position of Chief Public Health Officer. However, currently the position is held by the Chief Medical Officer, both positions held by the same person in a merged position. 

“This election we are calling on all parties to make the health of South Australians a number one priority. We want a renewed focus on primary health care, and for them to adopt our 3 sensible policies on disease prevention and health promotion.”

Our vision for a healthy South Australia includes:
The creation of a state-wide community health promotion and disease prevention strategy to support coordinated public health programs and partnerships between NGOs, local government and the Department of Health. 
The creation of a discrete, full-time position of Chief Public Health Officer (currently this position is combined with the position of Chief Medical Officer).
Establishing a pilot program with an initial two primary health care centres to build community capacity through health promotion, partnerships and development. One should be located in Adelaide, with the other in a rural location.

Kate Kameniar, President of the PHAA SA Branch says, “Chronic diseases caused by poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and smoking are severely impacting the health of South Australians.

“All South Australians deserve a fair go and the opportunity to live well.  We’re demanding urgent action be taken by a strong leadership with a visible commitment to improving public health.

“We want to see long-term, sustained commitment by the state to support all public institutions and places as health-promoting environments. Changing the settings in which we work, live and play can make a significant difference; whether it’s through increasing physical activity by installing better bike paths, encouraging healthier food options, or creating more smoke-free public zones,” she says.

 Dr Stefania Velardo, President of the AHPA SA Branch, says, “Funding directed to health promotion can address the underlying causes of ill health rather than just treating chronic disease when it appears.”

“The evidence indicates that many interventions focused on prevention are indeed cost saving. Cuts to public health spending are short-sighted and create a false economy.

“Health promotion is important because it enables people to increase control over their health; it moves beyond a focus on individuals towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions.”

Fran Baum, representing the People’s Health Movement says, “Across Australia, low-income people lose about six years of life compared to their better-off compatriots.  To reduce health inequities, we need to create environments that promote better health. This is known as addressing the ‘social determinants of health’.”

“The policies put forward by our consortium provide an evidence-based plan of action for the healthy, vibrant South Australian community we all want to live in.”

According to Pas Forgione, convenor of the Anti-Poverty Network SA, "Poverty, and the stress, isolation, and deprivation that comes with it, has profound impacts on wellbeing, whether it is chronic disease, poor mental health, or other ailments.”

“For those on low incomes, a renewed focus on prevention and promotion is long overdue, and a welcome antidote to blaming those struggling to get by for the health issues caused by their critical lack of funds.”


1.    SA Health. (2017). Protect, Prevent, Improve, Inform - The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report 2014-2016, South Australian Government: Adelaide. 

Published Date: 
Monday, 22 January 2018