The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting global health challenges have starkly demonstrated the weaknesses and fragility of our current health systems, and the need for increased prevention efforts to improve overall population health and reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases.
In November 2020, public health professionals, academics, and policymakers gathered to discuss the future of prevention work at a workshop and webinar jointly hosted by the East of England Population Health Research Hub, the NIHR ARC East of England, and the Centre for Science and Policy. These events were designed to inform support for action on longer-term investment for prevention.
Throughout the discussions, participants explored what the future of prevention looks like, and how we can make the case for investing in and advocating for prevention. They also explored the influence that the covid-19 pandemic has had on the prevention agenda, and how whole-of-systems approaches, collaborations between the academic, public health and policymaking spheres, the appropriate use of technologies, and strengthened relationships with local communities can play roles in strengthening and implementing the prevention agenda.
Throughout the workshop, participants highlighted that the pandemic has also made obvious the interconnectedness between the general population, the role of intersectionality in understanding determinants of health, and has increased public awareness of the broader idea of determinants of health. This in turn has created space for political dialogue, a renewed focus on health inequalities, and opportunities for increasing public engagement with the prevention agenda beyond the traditional avenues available within health systems.
The pandemic and associated economic shock have also disrupted and challenged other broader systems, including housing, transportation, how we plan our cities, and our response to climate change and air pollution. As we rebuild these systems, there are opportunities for prevention and public health to be incorporated in the rebuilding process.
As we go forward in implementing prevention agendas following the pandemic, workshop participants highlighted the need for us to do more to learn about the conditions that cause ill health outcomes, to work more with local communities and local authorities to understand drivers of poor outcomes, to focus on getting innovations which are supported by high quality, robust evidence into action, and to find ways to demonstrate value for money in implementing prevention programming. Workshop participants also suggested that the future of prevention must involve looking for double wins across public health and prevention silos; increased support for proactive professionals; an increased emphasis on multi-disciplinary research; an increased focus on equity; and further research into the practical delivery of scalable, accessible preventative measures which maximise citizen engagement.
The future success of prevention work will rely on acting across our health systems and in partnership with the voluntary sector, communities, and the private sector. These collaborations must also involve evaluation, monitoring, and efforts to ensure that programs contribute to health equity.
You can learn more about this discussion on prevention, and listen to the webinar, on the East of England Population Health Research Hub’s website. You can read the workshop report here.