Australia’s Chief Medical Officer reveals how NCD 2030 targets will be achieved

The Chief Medical Officer of Australia, Professor Brendan Murphy, highlighted the challenges of meeting the global non-communicable disease (NCD) targets needed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), saying there is strong commitment from all Australian governments to increase the national effort in addressing NCDs, in particular by implementing a number of strategic action plans that have been completed or are in development.

Professor Murphy, of the Department of Health, was speaking at The George Institute’s George Talks series where he discussed a whole range of health issues linked to achieving NCD targets, including exorbitant out-of-pocket medical costs, healthcare homes and prevention strategies to address Australia’s growing obesity crisis.

NCD Countdown 2030 towards the SDGs recently reported in the Lancet that Australia, along with half of all countries in the world, will not reach its World Health Organization 2030 targets to reduce NCDs. On present trends, Australia will achieve the goal of a one-third reduction in NCD deaths after 2040 for women, while the male target is expected to be reached between 2031 and 2040.

In a conversation with The George Institute’s Professor David Peiris, Professor Murphy discussed the complex debate regarding a sugar tax in Australia. Both major political parties did not support such a regulatory measure but all recognized the need for broader strategies to address the obesity epidemic.  He said that whilst exercise programs on their own would not solve obesity, you also have to address nutrition and start in early childhood.

Professor Murphy also stressed the importance of addressing inequity gaps in accessing Australia’s health system. He highlighted the problem of a lack of medical specialists in remote and rural Australia and the issue of rising out-of-pocket costs, saying that some specialists are charging completely “unjustifiable” fees and that there was a need for greater fee transparency.

Healthcare homes were also raised with Professor Murphy, who said the government was currently reviewing, with the major stakeholders, how this important primary care reform could be refined in the future.

When questioned on why Australia was not on track to meet its NCD targets unlike countries including New Zealand, South Korea and Norway, Professor Murphy listed a number of strategic action plans that have been or are being developed to address a range of NCDs. He noted the recent COAG Health Council commitment to a national obesity strategy. Governments would now need to consider how to implement these strategies to bring about the necessary increased interventions in addressing NCDs.

The George Institute is a regular convener of independent health policy forums with key policy makers to facilitate robust conversation on Australia’s biggest health challenges and opportunities.

Professor Brendan Murphy – Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health

Professor Brendan Murphy is the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for the Australian Government and the principal medical adviser to the Minister and the Department of Health. He also holds direct responsibility for the Department of Health’s Office of Health Protection and the Workforce Division. Apart from the many committees he chairs, co-chairs and participates in, he is the Australian Member on the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Governing Committee and represents Australia at the World Health Assembly. Prior to his appointment, Professor Murphy was the Chief Executive Officer of Austin Health in Victoria. He was formerly CMO and Director of Nephrology at St Vincent’s Health, and sat on the Boards of Health Workforce Australia, the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute and the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre. He is also a former president of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology. Professor Murphy is a Professorial Associate with the title of Professor at the University of Melbourne and an Adjunct Professor at Monash University, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Physicians and Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Professor David Peiris, Director of Health Systems Science, The George Institute for Global Health 

David is a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, UNSW Sydney and a practising GP. He joined the Institute in 2006 and directs the newly formed Centre for Health Systems Science. The goal of the Centre is to overcome the challenge of delivering affordable, high-quality health services and programs to communities across the globe. David has published extensively in areas related to health systems research and leads several grants, testing innovative strategies to improve access to high-quality primary healthcare in the Asia-Pacific region, with a particular focus on under-served populations. He is an NHMRC Career Development Fellow and Heart Foundation Future Fellow. David was the 2015-2016 Australian Harkness Fellow in Healthcare Policy, based at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where he conducted a national study of the changes to healthcare delivery systems associated with President Obama's reforms. David is a past co-chair of the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases Committee for Hypertension Control from 2012 to 2015, and a board member with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners National Faculty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health.