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If you want wealth, you need health


Medical experts from the around the world are set to converge on Melbourne next month to ensure health issues are high on the agenda when the leaders of the world’s biggest economies meet next year.

The World Medical Association, in conjunction with the Federal AMA and AMA Victoria, will host the H20 International Health Summit on the eve of the G20 meeting in Brisbane to highlight the importance of health to a strong and productive economy.

WMA Chair of Council Dr Mukesh Haikerwal said that it was “quite concerning” that health was often neglected by world leaders when they gathered to discuss economics and trade.

Dr Haikerwal, a former AMA President, said the H20 Summit was aimed at ensuring health issues were given their rightful attention when the G20 leaders gathered in Turkey next year.

“The WMA Council has sought to be proactive and to emphasise that health is not a bottomless pit of unproductive expenditure that has to be reined in, but a positive and worthy investment,” he said. “Health of nations is a core component of the wealth of nations.”

Dr Haikerwal said Australia was a good example of the economic benefits that flow from a healthy and productive workforce.

“Economics is important because you need money to pay for things, but you cannot run an economy without healthy people, and if you are in an environment where the health system works well, people tend to be more innovative and creative,” he said.

In his speech to the summit, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Chief Executive Officer David Kalisch is expected to highlight that Australia has achieved world-class outcomes while spending about the developed country average on health.

The economic benefits of medical research spending is due to be the focus of a presentation by leading HIV researcher Professor Sharon Lewin from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. Professor Lewin is expected to show how investing in research has helped turn HIV from a diagnosis that was once a death sentence into a chronic condition that can be effectively managed.

Dr Haikerwal said these and other presentations from the H20 Summit, including by AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler, Professor Thomas Feeley of the Harvard Business Schooland International Committee of the Red Cross Chief Surgeon Dr Robin Coupland, were aimed at convincing G20 leaders that health was an important part of discussions about economic growth and trade.

Among other issues to be discussed at the H20 Summit will be non-communicable diseases.

Dr Haikerwal said that it was often not understood that traumatic injuries like amputations and broken bones were only part of the medical needs that arose in emergency situations created by natural disasters or conflict, and that much of the work carried out by humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross centred around ensuring continued care and treatment for people with serious chronic conditions such as diabetes, HIV and mental illness.

One of the presenters in this area will be Dr Henry Brodaty, a dementia expert at the University of New South Wales. Dr Haikerwal said this was important because often mental health was ignored in international discussion of chronic diseases.

Other topics for discussion at the H20 meeting will include consideration of the social determinants of health and the health impacts of climate change.

The H20 Summit will be held at the Hotel Windsor, Spring Street, Melbourne, on 13 and 14 November.

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Adrian Rollins