Most people place a good deal of faith in the public health system, even if they grumble from time to time about its perceived inadequacies.
But what if health services can't fix us? Does the answer on good health lie elsewhere, in other systems of social organisation, perhaps?
This is the thrust of Professor Joan Cunningham's lecture that marks the start of Charles Darwin University's Public Lecture Series next month. Professor Cunningham said there is a growing body of evidence that indicates health services have a limited role to play in determining the health of populations.
‘Although health services are essential in treating existing illness in individual patients, the main drivers for a population's health lie outside the health portfolio, and relate to factors such as education, employment, income, housing, physical infrastructure, the legal system, government policy, the global economy, and so on,’ she said.
‘Ordinary citizens have understood this for a very long time; health practitioners and governments have finally started to catch on.
‘In addition, health services themselves can contribute to and reinforce health inequalities, often unintentionally, because of how the system is set up.’
Professor Cunningham's presentation will highlight some key findings relating to the social and system determinants of health, and consider the implications for individuals, populations and governments, with special reference to the Northern Territory and its Indigenous population.
Professor Cunningham is head of the Menzies School of Health Research's Services, Systems and Society Research division.
The May series of free public lectures will see four experts in their field speaking out on issues of public interest in health, environmental science, Indigenous resource management and gambling during a four week period.
Each lecture will take place in the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory's lecture theatre, the venue for previous series.
Dr Michael Douglas, who coordinates a team of scientists investigating northern rivers and wetlands, will deliver the second lecture on Wetlands, woodlands or weedlands.
Dr Douglas has spent the past 10 years working with a team focused on researching the impacts of weeds on the Top End's wetlands and woodlands. He will discuss the dramatic impacts that weeds are having on our natural environments and consider what actions we can take to stop this looming crisis.
The third lecture in the series will discuss a related theme - how to reward Indigenous land owners and managers for their environmental work.
Payment for Natural and Cultural Resource Management will be delivered by Joe Morrison, North Australian Land and Sea Management Alliance executive officer and coordinator of Land and Sea Management Tropical Savannahs at CDU.
The final topic in the series will be something completely different: a look at the gambling habits of Territorians. Dr Martin Young, senior research fellow in the School for Social and Policy Research, will reveal details of recent research into the subject in Backing a winner: Alternative futures for gambling management in the NT.
With gambling habits changing – and the amount of money being spent in this pastime increasing – Dr Young will sketch out some alternative futures for the management of this lucrative industry.
For more information on the CDU Public Lecture Series 2007 go to www.cdu.edu.au/publiclecture.