Many of us grew up with the adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Over the past 15 months, the urgent need for prevention strategies and the effectiveness of prevention have been front and centre in the media and in messaging from health experts and government leaders.
The simplicity of these strategies – wearing a mask, hand washing and physical distancing – belies the magnitude of their effectiveness in helping to “crush the curve” while vaccines were in development. They remain effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Prevention is the raison d’être of public health but, compared to acute care, it’s not as well funded. It never has been. It would be reasonable to think that, given what we have lived through with COVID, prevention would have risen in priority as a strategy that we, as a society, would embrace.
So far it hasn’t.
Prevention reduces death, hospitalization and emergency-department visits – all of which cost Canadians billions of dollars in financial and human resources, not to mention the human suffering and loss.
On July 5, Parachute, a national injury prevention charity, released the Cost of Injury in Canada. The data show the costs of not investing in prevention: $29.4 billion in one year.
To put that in perspective: According to Statistics Canada, injury was the leading cause of death by far for people ages 1 to 44 in Canada in 2018:
- Injury: 5,189
- Cancer: 1,648
- Heart disease: 605
- Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis: 245
Shocked? I’m not surprised.
Disease and treatment receive boatloads more attention and funding: We perceive them as a greater threat to our health than injury. But while disease research and treatment is vital and important, so too is preventing injuries.
Historically, investments are made in the acute care sector of the health-care system. Yet, over one year, deaths from preventable injuries resulted in 333,971 potential years of life lost.
Unlike the majority of chronic diseases, injuries kill people at a young age, stealing them from their families and friends and removing them from contributing to society. To fulfil Parachute’s mission to help Canadians live long lives to their fullest, we need to prevent injuries that cause death and serious injury.
Our Cost of Injury Report reveals that, in one year:
- 17,475 Canadians died;
- 61,400 Canadian suffered disabilities, temporarily or permanently impacting their potential for economic independence;
- 231,530 Canadians were hospitalized;
- 4.6 million Canadians visited an emergency department;
- The Canadian health-care system was charged $20.4 billion in direct costs;
- And Canadians spent $29.4 billion in total economic costs. That’s $80 million per day.
We spend money in hospitals to deal with injuries, paying for staff and services. Those resources could be allocated to other needs in the system.
The fact is, virtually all of these injuries and deaths, and the resulting costs, could have been prevented. We know how – wear life jackets, design roadways so cyclists, pedestrians and drivers are safer, install grab bars in all bathrooms (it’s not just for seniors) – but will we? Have we – policymakers, governments, funders, Canadians – really learned the value of prevention? And if so, will we be brave enough to invest in and change the designs, behaviours and systems that create needless, preventable injuries?