There’s both reason for celebration and cause for concern in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) latest national health report card.
Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton and AIHW Director and CEO David Kalisch officially released the report in Canberra on Wednesday June 25, confirming that Australia now has a health system which “much of the nation” is satisfied with.
Life expectancy on the rise
Australia’s life expectancy now stands at 79.9 years for males and 84 years for females – this means an Australian born in the year 2014 can expect to live approximately 25 years longer, on average, than someone born 100 years ago.
We are now ranked amongst the top nations in the world for life expectancy, which is important when you consider this statistic is often considered the universal indicator of good health.
In comparison, a study published by the US Central Intelligence Agency in 2012 found the life expectancy in New Zealand – our closest neighbour – was 78.61 for males and 82.67 for females.
However, Australia is still trailing behind countries like Monaco, which boasted a life expectancy of over 85 for males and 93 for females, according to the CIA study.
Quality of life improving
The AIWH report also shows that these additional years are not being spent in significant pain or discomfort. Amongst those surveyed in the 2011-12 period, 85 per cent aged 15 and over said they believed they were in “good” to “excellent” health.
Meanwhile smoking rates have continued to fall, and vaccination rates for five year olds have spiked from 78 per cent in 2008 to 92 per cent in 2012. Cancer survival rates are also up, and heart attack and stroke suffers now have have a greater chance of survival.
However, the report was not entirely positive. It also highlighted a number of health factors which continue to be or are becoming significant concerns for the Australian healthcare industry.
Chronic Disease: Australia’s greatest health challenge
According to Mr Kalisch, chronic diseases remain the leading cause of illness and death in Australia. Furthermore, the AIHW Director asserts that the majority of chronic diseases are caused by behavioural problems.
“Chronic diseases have often been called “Australia’s greatest health challenge” – and while not solely related to behavioural factors in all cases, can be heavily linked to smoking, physical inactivity, poor nutrition and the harmful use of alcohol,” said Mr Kalisch.
“This can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, which in turn can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and mental health issues.”
Indigenous health remains a concern
While the health of Indigenous Australians has also improved in recent years, according to the AIHW report, there remain a few significant points of concern for this demographic.
The AIHW reports that Indigenous Australians are still struggling with end-stage kidney disease rates, diabetes rates, cancer death rates, and obesity rates several times that of nonindigenous Australians.
On the positive side, the death rate from circulatory and respiratory diseases amongst Indigenous Australians has fallen significantly in recent years.
Driving Australia’s health future
Of particular concern will be the AIHW’s findings that healthcare costs are rising in Australia. Although this trend is not unusual in the developed world, it does suggest that more needs to be done to ensure adequate healthcare remains affordable and accessible for all Australians.
“[Health care costs] have risen faster than inflation and the economy as a whole for many years, and in recent years have outpaced government revenues from taxation and other sources,” said Mr Kalisch.
“We find that health spending is taking up a greater proportion of government revenue than it used to – 26 per cent in 2011-12, or 6 percentage points higher than before the Global Financial Crisis.”
These types of report play an important role in determining the future of Australia’s health sector, and driving intelligent and strategic funding and development in the areas which need it most. The government will hopefully use this data to make important medical funding decisions, and determine which health factors are in need of greater research and investment.
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