A "dismal" response to "big, unprecedented, threats" to human survival: McMichael on McKeon

Monday 08 October 2012

This post was first published on Croakey as http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2012/10/06/more-mckeon-malarkey/ on 7th October 2012. In an email to CAHA he agreed to make public, Professor Tony McMichael provides another critique of the McKeon review's narrow approach to health and medical research. This McKeon Review ˜consultation paper' contains, for the wider social enterprise of public health research, a dismal but predictable set of recommendations. The name 'NHMRC' incorporates the words ˜Health and Medical', but the McKeon Review panel membership comprised ˜medical' rather than ˜health' persons ” eminent researchers in laboratory and clinical science ” along with a strong representation of the private for-profit business (including biotech) sector. Of course, it's easy to rail against this McKeon Review output and the restricted, orthodox, and somewhat closed-shop NHMRC mentality. However, the document also provides a sobering reminder of the fundamental problem that societies face today in their need to expand their concern, research effort, resources and policy to abating the big, and unprecedented, systemic threats to population health and survival from human-caused climate change and other extraordinary global environmental changes. These threats to health are of a kind not previously faced, and a broad and distinctive genre of research in relation to them is required. The committee members are very able people who, variously, have great intellectual, reputational and financial investments in the status quo; they are at the top of their professional pyramids; and they probably cannot imagine a different world in the near future with a radically different spectrum of health-risk issues. History has seen it all before. As prolonged droughts closed in on the Maya civilisation in the ninth century, contributing greatly to the weakening of the agricultural base (already stretched by a population that had expanded substantially), the rulers and opinion-leaders opted for ever larger edifices and grander ceremonies. They had, presumably, little understanding or interest in the increasingly precarious longer-term prospects of their society. Hay was to be made while the sun shined. It was business as usual, but always with a growing appetite for ever-more resources. Dubai today is following suit, in a region of the world where they have had to give up trying to grow their own grains, now that their once-only aquifer supplies have been depleted. Meanwhile, the sheikhs and financiers opt for world-tallest buildings and creating (and selling) artificial island ˜nations' in the Gulf that have been built to a mere couple of metres above the (rising) sea level. The McKeon Review perspective is of a kind with these assumptions of business-as-usual (in a stable world). It is not surprising that the Chief Executive of Medicines Australia, Brendan Shaw, has been quoted as saying this week: "We are encouraged by the McKeon Review's recognition of the importance of clinical research both as generator of economic benefit, but more importantly as a generator of health benefits for Australian patients, and the recognition of the important role the medicines industry plays in this.