Prevention: The Other Story
What many do not know is that it is precisely prevention that has been the success story of the past 150 years. Thanks to social and technological innovations such as universal compulsory education, birth care, vaccinations, drinking water supplies, sewers, crash barriers and traffic circles, safer workplaces and general hygiene measures, our life expectancy has increased by 35 years. All of these innovations have become such a common part of our living environment that collectively we often leave them unmentioned when we talk about prevention. We have become more or less unconsciously competent. Better health care has added another 5.5 years to that life expectancy.
All in all, then, the biggest gains come not so much from better diagnostics, drugs or life-saving surgery, but from the many often unnamed preventive services in the living environment. A living environment in which the government is structurally investing across the board, well considered even more than in healthcare. In addition, there is still a large, partly known and perhaps still unknown but mainly untapped prevention potential, a potential that can be even better utilized by means of, for example, modern data technology and infrastructure and sustainable poverty reduction.
There seems to be a broad consensus that we do too little on prevention and that Dutch society and government spend considerably more on care than on prevention1. Assuming the broadness of provisions that contribute to prevention, this is incorrect. Dutch society and government invest markedly and unwittingly structurally across the board in prevention, properly speaking even more than in care. Before addressing the untapped potential of prevention and the opportunities for the coming decades, it is essential to look back in order to clear up the aforementioned misunderstanding.