01.05.2010 At first hand

Editorial Stefan Spycher. Prevention efforts can, if well done, deliver significant health benefits. But are they also cost-effective? Do the benefits of prevention outweigh its costs? How does the cost-benefit ratio of prevention compare with that of curative measures? These questions are justified. But the answers are not easy to find. Analysing the economic benefits of prevention and health-promotion initiatives poses some serious scientific challenges, as a recent literature review of this field has shown.

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How admirable therefore to see that a number of pioneer studies have taken up the challenge with respect to Switzerland. A study commissioned by the Association of Pharmaceutical Companies in Switzerland (VIPS) dating from 2009 investigated the cost-benefits of a number of preventive medicines. The Swiss Council for Accident Prevention (bfu) financed an economic evaluation of several measures aimed at reducing accidents, while in 2004 the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine in Zurich produced its study on the cost-benefits of preventive measures. And, last but not least, the findings of a study commissioned by the Federal Office of Public Health are now available as well. The FOPH commissioned the University of Neuchâtel and the Winterthur Institute of Health Economics to calculate the cost-benefits of prevention measures in the fields of tobacco, alcohol and road accidents.

These studies have produced interesting and encouraging findings and pave the way for further exploration. Future studies will have to address the methodological challenges of this area of research and evaluation. But the basic data available will also have to be improved if we are to generate even more exact and reliable findings.

Stefan Spycher
Federal Office of Public Health

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