On Tuesday August 11th, the Southgate Institute for Health, Society, and Equity hosted an online Policy Lab on ‘Unpacking the Commercial Determinants of Health’. The event was spurred by the Southgate Institute’s new designation as a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre on the Social, Political and Commercial Determinants of Health Equity, and Dr. Etienne Krug, Director, Social Determinants of Health, World Health Organization, provided an opening address on how health can be sacrificed for the sake of profits, and the importance of research on commercial determinants of health. The event was chaired by Prof. Fran Baum, Director of the Southgate Institute and of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre, and attracted 84 participants from a range of countries and sectors.
Dr. Bel Townsend, from the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) and Deputy Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Governance, Australian National University presented on how trade and investment agreements can shape population health outcomes, including around noncommunicable diseases. Dr. Jennifer Lacy-Nichols, from the School of Agriculture and Food, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Science, University of Melbourne, presented on how we could conceptualise commercial determinants of health to include practices and power as well as unhealthy commodities. Dr. Julia Anaf from the Southgate Institute then presented on the strategies that corporations use to shape public perceptions on health and equity issues. Prof. Sharon Friel joined the panel for a question and answer session and argued the injustice of the burden of ill health arising from the commercial determinants of health, and that there is a role for government in regulating the private sector to prevent these harms.
The Q & A session covered a broad range of issues, including the possible impact of trade agreements on COVID vaccine availability, the blurriness of sport sponsorship, marketing, and corporate social responsibility, conflicts of interest, the challenges faced in addressing commercial determinants in low and middle income countries, the powerful influence of the mining industry in Australia, and the future research agenda for commercial determinants of health. It finished with a desire to find the cracks in the commercial determinants where progress on health could be made, with Prof. Fran Baum quoting Leonard Cohen – “There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
A recording of the event can be viewed here.