JEFFER: Public Health issues tackled by youths and experts alike

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On the 24th of March experts and youths came together to tackle the fundamental problems with public health and the healthcare system, as part of JEF Malta’s campaign - ‘Generation Europe’. Public health has become quite a hot topic, with issues such as hospital privatisation and our ageing population, thus making the seminar, ‘Public Health: Diagnosing the Problems’ very relevant.

The first part of the seminar consisted of a workshop where the audience took part in a variety of activities aimed at informing their views on the topic and allowing them to fruitfully contribute to the discussion. The audience then worked together to come to a consensus on those key points they wished to raise in the panel debate, thus bringing youths to the forefront of the discussion. The second part of the seminar consisted of a debate featuring Dr. Alexander Clayman, Dr. Sascha Reiff, Dr. Stefano Moncada, Ms. Sarah Suleiman and Dr. Anthony Buttigieg.

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On the subject of public health policy Ms. Sarah Suleiman, Public Health Officer of MMSA, tackled the issue of mental health which is at the forefront of national discourse. Ms. Suleiman noted the complexity of the subject and advocated for a broader understanding of mental health treatment as extending beyond mental health facilities and into primary care. She also pointed out that the current conversation on mental health was the first step towards breaking stigmas and misconceptions.

The conversation on health policy continued with the contribution of Dr. Sascha Reiff, Vice-President of the Malta Association of Public Health Medicine (MAPHM), addressing Malta’s pre-eminence in child obesity statistics and the effects this has on our healthcare system, as well as on society as a whole. Dr. Reiff stated that it is parents who must break unhealthy habits, an opinion seconded by Ms. Suleiman who spoke about the role that a cultural affinity to food might be fuelling Malta’s obesity epidemic. Bridging the gap between public health policy and economics, Dr. Reiff also expounded upon the topic of health inequalities due to socio-economic factors. Citing statistics, Dr. Reiff drew the link between family income and life expectancy, a link attributable to unhealthy habits such as bad nutrition and smoking.

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At this point a well-placed question from the audience probed the reasons that healthy food is so expensive when compared to more fattening alternatives. Dr. Anthony Buttigieg, Leader of Partit Demokratiku, spoke of the financial incentive that companies have to sell relatively cheap and healthy produce at inflated prices, as they know that well-off individuals will pay for their health at a premium. Dr. Buttigieg also spoke of private-public partnerships and the role they can play in ensuring efficient healthcare, though he stressed that a lack of transparency and the intrusion of unchecked profit motives may inevitably lead to negative outcomes.

This point was strongly emphasised by Dr. Alexander Clayman, Junior Doctor and co-founder of Patients Not Profits, who expressed his reluctance to rely on private hospitals and companies. Dr. Clayman also provided the perspective of junior doctors in hospital, who he said are used to filling in the gaps that other healthcare professionals would rather avoid. He lamented the attitude of senior doctors and the Medical Association of Malta, who he felt dismissed junior doctors’ concerns as nothing more than grumbling, rather than trying to implement a system that focuses on giving doctors much needed experience. Dr. Reiff, an official in MAM, declined to comment as he was not representing the union, but referred Dr. Clayman to the representation of junior doctors within the union.

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Dr. Stefano Moncada, a lecturer and researcher in Development Economics and European Studies, addressed the economic issues that arise from an ageing population, and spoke of the key role that migrants play in European economies due to their predominantly young age. Throughout the panel Dr. Moncada highlighted healthcare as part of Malta’s social-contract and a fundamental area of government intervention that cannot be looked at as a for-profit activity. This point of view enjoyed wide agreement by all on the panel.

Other topics raised by the audience included the lack of adequate support given to students and young healthcare professionals thrust into a hospital environment, especially in the nursing course. Ms. Suleiman acknowledged the importance of a strong support system for such individuals whilst saying that this experience was not one she shared from her perspective as a medical student. The audience also asked the panel to comment on language barriers between Maltese speaking nationals and foreign healthcare professionals, the role of nurses in the public healthcare system and the issue of waiting lists.

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For more on these and other issues a full recording of the seminar can be found on the JEF Malta Facebook page. Follow this space for updates on JEF Malta’s upcoming seminar ‘Migrants’ Rights: Moving Beyond Residency’ being held on the 28th of April.

Written by

Daniel Cassar

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