opinion

A few things to know about the "Health Australia Party" before you vote.

When Australians are handed their ballot papers on May 18, they’ll see a list of micro-parties, many of which don’t provide a lot of context in their titles.

The Pirate Party.

The Rise Up Australia Party.

The Science Party.

The Health Australia Party.

At first glance, the Health Australia Party might be an appealing one to vote for. Most of us believe in a healthy Australia.

What you don’t know when you see it listed on a ballot form, however, is that it used to be called the Natural Medicine Party. In 2015, it adopted its current name, a rather ambiguous one that serves to make it appear far more mainstream.

Two Health Australia Party candidates in NSW.

Some of the Health Australia Party's policies include:

  • 'Natural' medicine (i.e. alternative, non evidence-based medicine), should be placed on an equal footing with pharmaceutical (i.e. evidence-based) medicine.
  • Fluoride is a 'toxic chemical waste' product and should not be placed in public water supplies.
  • There is no such thing as a vaccine that is entirely safe and effective, and adverse events are a real issue that must be factored into a responsible policy. The Party rejects the 'No Jab, No Play' policy, arguing the importance of freedom of choice in healthcare, and that individuals should have the right to use their preferred method of allopathic or natural medicine.

Of course, if you agree with these policies, you should vote for the Health Australia Party.

But most of us would be excused for thinking - from their name alone - their policies are in line with what the Australian Medical Association considers the hallmarks of a healthy Australia.

Dr Kean-Seng Lim is the President of the Australian Medical Association (NSW), and says what the Health Australia Party stands for is in opposition to the AMA.

Speaking to Mamamia, he said "The stance of this association is quite simple and quite clear, and that is that we support all evidence-based treatments, and we support an integrated and coordinated healthcare system which is best able to provide care to patients throughout their lifetime."

In particular, Dr Lim is concerned that any public group who questions the efficacy of vaccines poses a risk to the Australian community.

"When it comes to vaccinations specifically, vaccinations are one of the most highly evidenced and proven ways of improving the health of a community," he said.

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"The risk we run with either small parties or other groups starting to question the effectiveness of vaccination, without any evidence to support their claims, is that it leads to confusion amongst Australians, which could potentially reduce the vaccination rates in this country, which could then lead to the recurrence of many conditions that are now controlled or even non-existent due to vaccinations."

As an example, Dr Lim cited that a few years ago, it was thought measles could be considered eradicated in Australia. Recently, however, there's been a recurrence of it. "That recurrence is something which we can say is due to inadequate levels of vaccination in some groups," he said.

Dr Lim told Mamamia that the prime directive of the medical profession is 'first do no harm,' and he believes all groups who aspire to a leadership position should share that responsibility.

The AMA also has a firm stance on water fluoridation - one that is at odds with the claims of the Health Australia Party.

"There is very clear evidence of benefit of fluoride in water, and there is also no evidence of disbenefit, that is, of harm," said Dr Lim. "There is evidence that fluoridation of water improves dental health, and dental health is a very key part of prevention of chronic illnesses."

His other concern is that the Party talks about using alternative therapies to manage chronic illnesses.

"We have very good evidence for what works for managing chronic illnesses, and to move away from that risks causing harm to people suffering from these conditions," he said.

Ultimately, Dr Lim believes all consumers have the right to choose how they wish to be treated. But as important, he argues, is that "all consumers should have the right information on which to make an informed choice".

The problem with many natural therapies is that the evidence base - which would encourage a medical professional to recommend it - simply isn't there.

"There is a cost to trying something that has poor level of evidence," Dr Lim said.

What the Health Australia Party gets wrong, it seems, is their representation of how health care works in Australia.

On the first page of their official policy document, the Party states: "The current medical business model provides no incentive for drug manufacturers to promote good health."

The incentive of drug manufacturers, Dr Lim argues, is irrelevant, because they're not the ones prescribing treatments - medical professionals are.

"The medical profession's first priority is the good health of the patient and the community," he said. "And that is going to include providing treatments with the best evidence of effectiveness, whether that be pharmacological treatments or lifestyle treatments or professional advice. This is a core part of doctor's training."

So carefully consider who you give your vote to on May 18. A seemingly benign Party may not stand for what you think it does.

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