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Why prevention is better than cure


Why prevention is better than cure 

How Do Viruses Make Us Sick?

We’ve all heard the saying ‘prevention is better than cure’ but what does this mean in the context of the nation’s health?

At its simplest level, the concept of preventative healthcare is to identify and address health risks early and prevent them being realised. This is by no means an easy task however and requires advancements in diagnosis and treatment as well as new approaches to policy and educating the public.

The UK’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted just how important preventative healthcare is to the health of the nation and to the economy. It emphasised the importance of preventing illness by investing in one’s health to support the health of others. This ‘preventative’ mindset and the lessons learned from the pandemic, should now be applied to the task of building a more health conscious and prevention focused society. It’s important to remember that prevention not only reduces the incidents of certain disease and improves health, it also significantly reduces the burden on the NHS allowing its resources to be directed to other critical and essential areas of treatment and care.1

In recent years, the UK Government has stressed focus on prevention and ambitious health priorities.2 According to a recent survey, over three quarters of the nation have concerns about their health, with worries about weight, mental health, lack of exercise, back problems and diet being the major concerns.3

How can we begin a ‘prevention revolution’?

Good health is an ‘asset’, both for individuals and society at large. It’s important therefore that as individuals and as a nation, we protect and invest in this vital asset. This means prevention. Recent analysis estimates that improving health outcomes in local authorities that contain areas of social and economic deprivation, and bringing them up to England’s average, could add an extra £29.8bn to the country’s economy each year.4

So, what are some of the ways in which we can build a prevention-first nation?

Improve vaccination rates

Every year, 3.5-5 million lives are saved worldwide because of immunisation.5 However, the most recent data (2018-2020) demonstrates that the UK has lost its measles-free status6 and influenza and pneumonia are now the 6th biggest killer in England and Wales.7

Improving vaccination uptake is therefore a key part of preventative healthcare that needs to be addressed. Vaccinations work by stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies to fight specific diseases. By doing so, vaccines help prevent illness and the spread of certain infectious disease, potentially reducing hospitalisation and long-term complications. Getting vaccinated is an important step towards protecting yourself, your loved ones, and your community from preventable infectious diseases.

Raise awareness of antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

AMR is an example of a healthcare threat that needs to be tackled today to prevent it getting worse in the future. Many of us request antibiotics from our GPs without thinking twice about it. However, to ensure we have a future where antibiotics are still effective requires us to only use them when necessary to help prevent the rise of ‘superbugs’. Superbugs arise when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites evolve to become resistant to the drugs used to fight them. This means that the medicines we rely on to prevent and fight infections today may not work as effectively in the future, making it harder or sometimes impossible to treat infections.

AMR is a growing worldwide public health concern, as it threatens our ability to treat infectious diseases, and is primarily caused by the over-use of antibiotics.8 It’s estimated that by 2050, if our overuse of antibiotics isn’t tackled, 10 million people each year could die globally because of AMR.9 This is something each-and-every one of us can help fight by becoming more aware of AMR and by reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics.

Earlier diagnosis

Alongside improved public ownership of health, earlier detection of infections and diseases is a critical piece of the puzzle when looking at prevention. If you can detect and treat a condition earlier it can lead to better treatment outcomes1, as it may be possible to prevent the disease from progressing if identified earlier, potentially reducing the risk of complications and improving long-term health.

Advancement in wearable technologies and point of care testing are two examples helping achieve earlier diagnosis. Wearing smart watches can help monitor your health and some are even capable of detecting irregular heart rhythms to help diagnose atrial fibrillation.10 

Point of care testing, during a visit to a GP or pharmacy,  is another tool being used to help disease prevention, by providing a rapid diagnosis of  illnesses such as Group A Strep. These tests can detect the illness with more than 90% accuracy, helping to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions from being issued.11 Having these tests readily available across the country helps reduce stress on pharmacies, urgent care facilities and antibiotics manufacturers.11 Expanding the availability of point of care tests and developing tests for a wider range of conditions could be a huge step forward in prevention.

Develop new therapies

After decades of development, one exciting area of research is that of cell and gene therapies. These potential one-off treatments may in the future help prevent or even cure diseases, reducing the need for long-term treatments and patient care. These breakthroughs could help patients live well for longer, by tackling the root cause of a disease and may benefit the healthcare system by reducing the need for continuous disease management.

Improve health literacy

Health literacy is a person's ability to understand information provided to them to make informed decisions about their health. Research indicates that 43% of adults do not understand written health information,12 and low health literacy has been linked to poor general health, reduced use of preventative services, like vaccinations and screening, and even reduced life expectancy.13

Improving health literacy could reduce the prevalence of long-term chronic health conditions,14 so is fundamental to not only closing health inequality gaps, but plays a critical role in a prevention-first ambition.

Looking ahead

Preventative health has already been highlighted as a top priority in the UK Government's long-term ambitions. The public health benefits of preventative measures including vaccination, earlier health screening, tackling health inequalities and AMR are all generally well understood and have all been referenced as key areas to focus on. Getting preventative health right really could have huge benefits on individuals, wider society, the NHS and even the economic success of the UK.

At Pfizer we are here to help play a vital role in achieving these ambitions, exploring ways in which we can advance preventative healthcare. In our recent ‘Breakthrough Nation’ report one of our five big ideas for improving the UK's health, wealth and resilience is to deliver a prevention revolution to prepare the nation against future health threats.

Let’s work together to deliver this once‑in‑a‑generation opportunity to reshape UK life sciences for the better. Pfizer stands ready to support the UK to drive the nation’s health, wealth, and resilience beyond the pandemic.


  1. NHS England. NHS Prevention Programme. Accessed July 2023.
  2. UK Parliament. Prevention better than cure. Accessed July 2023.
  3. BUPA. Top UK health concerns for 2023. Accessed July 2023.
  4. APPG. Overcoming health inequalities in left behind neighbourhoods. Accessed July 2023.
  5. WHO. Vaccines and immunization (  Accessed July 2023.
  6. Gov UK. UK measles and rubella elimination indicators and status. Accessed July 2023.
  7. Office for National Statistics. Monthly mortality analysis, England and Wales, May 2023. Accessed July 2023.
  8. WHO. Antimicrobial resistance. Accessed July 2023.
  9. AMR Review. Tackling drug-resistant infections globally. Accessed July 2023.
  10. Patient Care. New Data Suggest Apple Watch Algorithm is Accurate in Atrial Fibrillation Detection. Accessed July 2023.
  11. BJGP. Group A strep: has point-of-care testing for primary care finally come of age? | British Journal of General Practice. Accessed July 2023.
  12. Gillian Rowlands et al. A mismatch between population health literacy and the complexity of health information: an observational study. Accessed July 2023.
  13. NHS UK. Health Literacy. Accessed July 2023.
  14. Sarah Gibnet et al. Increasing Health Literacy May Reduce Health Inequalities: Evidence from a National Population Survey in Ireland. Accessed July 2023.
PP-UNP-GBR-6203 / August 2023
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