Working in preventive health has always been a challenge: how do we make the link between small, daily actions and the profound impact they can make later down the track? Our health system is focussed fundamentally on the treatment of illness so it’s no wonder prevention is not always considered as worthy a goal. Perhaps until now.
For almost all of us, daily activities of masking, sanitising, and social-distancing have become as routine as brushing our teeth. Prevention has become our lived experience and the repercussions of not sticking to preventive measures couldn’t be any starker. We stick to it because prevention is better than cure. Because it helps ease the likely burden on our health system and our health workers. Because it’s better than risking the lives of our loved ones.
The collective effort needed to combat COVID-19 has highlighted the interconnectedness of our health, while at the same time highlighting how our systems have made many in our community even more vulnerable. As we’ve highlighted in the last several months, migrant and refugee women and their families have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including increased risk of infection. The pandemic has not caused this inequity, rather it’s exacerbated the already existing health inequities that migrant and refugee women already face.
Migrant and refugee women, along with other groups, have unique and greater health needs. Their experience of health and healthcare, like the rest of the population, is affected by many factors outside of the health system. But, unlike the Australian-born, English-speaking population with citizenship rights, migrant women’s health experiences are impacted by discrimination, such as racism, both at the interpersonal and institutional level.
We mustn’t lose sight of the long-term and sustained efforts required to eliminate inequities impacting on ill-health, health-seeking behaviour and experiences with healthcare providers. We need to harness our ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ COVID-thinking to rebalance and refocus our health system towards prevention (a little known and curious fact: the anagram for ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ is ‘this is meant as incentive’).
Australians are among the healthiest and longest living people in the world. But maintaining this health status for all requires a collective effort. The pandemic brought with it a clear message: We need a health system that can effectively respond to the unique challenges faced by migrant and refugee women. A health system focussed on both prevention and equity will be the key to COVID recovery. Let’s make it our collective incentive.
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