Leadership in Healthcare

Professor Ian Frazer, with Head Girls at IGGS, Rosie Harris and Lillian Horneman-Wren

World renowned scientist and creator of the live-saving cervical cancer vaccine, Dr Ian Frazer, says Australia must promote more leadership in medicine, to maximise the benefits of public health research.

Addressing an Inspiring Leaders Breakfast at Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School, Dr Frazer said that too often knowledge of good outcomes in medicine is lost because leadership is lacking in connecting research with frontline healthcare practices.

“When it comes to science we have leadership thrust upon us,” he said, pointing to eminent Australian scientists such as Professors Fiona Stanley, Gustav Nossal and Brian Schmidt.

“None of these leaders in their respective fields chose the leadership roles they now have; they were annointed to the positions.

Dr Frazer mentioned Sir William Osler, described as �The Father of Modern Experimental Medicine.

“He led in a field that required health care to be evidence based, which I think is probably better than guessing how to treat people,” Dr Frazer quipped.

However, things have changed a lot since Professor Osler died in 1919, when he still espoused that men should stop work when they were about 67 years old and have a year or two to get their affairs in order before they died.

“The challenge we now face is healthy ageing, thanks in large part to two 19th Century revolutions: the agricultural revolution that gave us safe food to eat and the Industrial Revolution that gave us safe water to drink,” Dr Frazer said.

“Then, in the 20th Century we added the control of infectious diseases, through vaccines and antibiotics that added 15 to 20 years to our life expectancy.

“But the point is, we want to live longer, healthier lives and that presents its own set of challenges. The life expectancy in Australia at present is about 84 years but within the aboriginal communities the life expectancy is about 15 years less than that, so we are not distributing health care adequately. In places like North Africa the life expectancy average is still 45 years, so that hasn’t shifted despite the advances made in the past 200 years.”

Dr Frazer said the challenge is also in affording to live longer, with health care costs rising significantly year-by-year, increasing faster than Gross Domestic Product. He said the dichotomy at present is that increased spending on healthcare is not necessarily translating into ageing healthier and living longer.

“In the United States, which spends 18 per cent of GDP on healthcare, their life expectancy is about six years less than ours in Australia,” Dr Frazer said.

Dr Frazer said there was a clear need for evidence based strategies, saying that vaccines and public health measures have provided excellent health outcomes, while huge outlays on vitamins, food supplements and the like have no proven value on improved health and life expectancy. In fact, there’s clear evidence of no benefit.

“So, we have to think more clearly about what is the better investment: research that leads to positive outcomes, or succumb to advertising tactics that encourage us to do things that are not good for our health.”

Dr Frazer said getting the message out about what contributes to a long and healthy life is vital.

“It’s a relatively simple message but one that is one of the hardest to sell,” Dr Frazer said.
“So what are the top four things that will make a big difference to a long and healthier life.

Number one, stop smoking if you are a smoker. Smoking related health problems cost us $31 billion every year, and it kills 15,000 Australians every year.

“Keeping your weight right is a challenge, with the pressure to eat junk food. Obesity in Australia costs $21 billion and kills 5,600 each year.

“Drinking less alcohol is never a popular message but it is a Class 1 carcinogen, and cancers from sun exposure is also a big problem”

Dr Frazer said that fundamentally we need to act on public health research. “Basic research leads to innovation and exploration on better ways to treat people, but when it comes to translating that research into practise we are twenty-third out of twenty-three in OECD countries,” he said.

Dr Frazer said the challenge was to have funding to do the research, by using only evidence based strategies: doing only the things that prove to work, and save money on the things that don’t work”

Dr Frazer continues to work towards revolutionising vaccine technologies at the Translational Research Institute where he also leads a research group on skin cancer immunology.

Speakers of the calibre of Dr Frazer can be heard at the Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School’s quarterly Inspiring Leaders Breakfasts. Keep an eye on www.girlsgrammar.com.au for details of the next breakfast, and start your day inspired.