Vic Health: A global pioneer

VicHealth was established by an Act of Parliament in late 1987. But it was not a rapid process. It had taken Dr Nigel Gray, the then director of the Cancer Council of Victoria, over 19 years to bring his idea to fruition.

It took eight state health ministers before he found one, David White, sympathetic and able to implement his idea of using an earmarked tax on tobacco to buy out tobacco sponsorship, decrease tobacco consumption and fund other forms of tobacco control, health promotion and health promotion research.

Ten years later, the legislation was changed with the result that only the federal government was mandated to collect excise taxes, thus preventing states from collecting such taxes.

But the 10 years of support from all political parties meant that VicHealth continued unchanged. In 1998 I was lucky enough to be appointed CEO, inheriting a highly respected and effective organisation.

Lean machines
Health promotion foundations (HPFs) are by nature relatively lean and supple organisations that can understandably act faster, innovate and be a much stronger public voice and advocate for key health issues than government agencies. There is little doubt that even stronger voices will need to be heard in the next decades, as so much of our health (or ill health) will be determined by the actions of powerful commercial interests such as the tobacco, alcohol, junk food and beverage industries.

In partnership with leading NGOs such as the Cancer Council, National Heart Foundation, Diabetes Australia and the Australian Drug Foundation, VicHealth has promoted active transport, pushed for changes in urban planning, tobacco legislation, the regulation and granting of alcohol licences, the promotion and pricing of alcohol and has been a global leader in the promotion of mental health, to name but a few areas of activity.

Build capacity
VicHealth has had 24 years of investment in building the capacity of these major non-governmental organisations as well as in thousands of much smaller community groups. In addition it has helped build a cadre of epidemiologists, social scientists and health promotion researchers through designated research funding. Health promotion foundations can work across all levels of governments (national, state, provincial and local) with ease while also working across many disciplines and sectors.

By virtue of this independence and their strong networking and convening power, health promotion foundations can “play well above their weight”. This has been admirably shown by other HPFs such as Healthway, ThaiHealth, Health Promotion Switzerland and Malaysian Health Promotion Board. In Australia, the work of Health-way and VicHealth has greatly contributed to the development of the national preventative health strategy and the recent establishment of the Australian National Preventive Health Agency.

Staring death in the face
As was demonstrated at the United Nations high level meeting on non- communicable diseases (NCDs) held in September in New York, NCDs are now as much, or more, of a problem in low and middle income countries as they are in high income countries. NCDs like diabetes, cancers, cardio vascular and respiratory diseases strike harder and earlier in lower income countries and hit the poorest hardest.

The World Health Organisation predicts that they will be the major cause of death in Africa by 2030. Not only will greater advocacy be needed, but greater levels of research, work force development and programme implementation and evaluation will be required if we are to be able to effectively deal with the epidemics of tobacco, obesity and harmful consumption of alcohol, let alone mental health issues and the inequities that underpin all of these problems.

And what better way to fund these programmes than by using highly targeted and effective taxes or surcharges on tobacco and/or alcohol, which in turn reduce harmful consumption of unhealthy products? It may take a while to establish, but as we have seen from the work of Dr Nigel Gray, persistence and patience are key factors in successful health promotion.

Rob Moodie is Professor of Global Health at the University of Melbourne’s Nossal Institute and was CEO of VicHealth from 1998-2007.

This article originally appeared in the Mail & Guardian newspaper as a sponsored feature

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday