Source: The Australian, 21 June, 1996, p.3
THE nation is healthier than ever, thanks partly to rises in health spending, now well over $36 billion a year. But our infamous excesses in diet and deficiencies in exercise keep the nation from a better performance, a comprehensive study indicates. Australia's 18 million-plus people still have a higher inci- dence of injuries, heart disease cancers and respiratory dis- orders than some other advanced countries. The study, a biennial snapshot by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, titled Aust ralia's Health 1996, also reiter- ates the difficulties for Aborigi- nes, although their health is improving, and the poor. Institute director Dr Richard Madden says in the report that it has "numerous population- wide indicators of lengthening life expectancy and lower inci- dence of many previous major sources of death and illness". The report, which contains almost 300 pages of analysis of national and overseas data for varying years, shows that along with increasing life expectancy, Australians can expect to live longer without any handicap. They will live substantially longer if born in Asia rather than Australia. Australians still spend a lot of time in the sun despite warn- ings of skin cancer, and on a summer Sunday about 7 per cent of adults become sun- burned. But both melanoma diagnoses and deaths may have peaked. Attention to prostate cancer has been accompanied by a rapid rise in diagnoses but not in deaths, a focus of specu- lation. The report also supports the belief rural-dwellers, both male and female, are more likely than city people to die due to accidents, suicide and "inter- personal violence", including firearms deaths. Despite an improvement in Aboriginal health, the death rate among Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders is still five to seven times higher than for other Australians, with their 30 per cent share of maternal deaths 10 times the proportion of confinements. The report points to high incidence of poor health among unemployed people aged 15 to 24, and the persistence of socio- economically linked health dis- advantage from birth to old age. Boys from poor families had 42 per cent more illnesses than boys from high-income famil- ies, and poor girls 24 per cent. The report says the extension of the concept of life expect- ancy to quality of life-health expectancy - shows Aust- ralians are living longer with- out encountering a handicap. This is contrary to some views that while Australians are living longer, they simply face more years of declining health. The study defines handicap as a limitation in ability to perform tasks in self-care mobility, speaking, schooling or employment, and severe handi- cap as requiring personal help. Between 1988 and 1993, male life expectancy rose 1.9 years to 75 years, and handicap-free expectancy rose almost as much, 1.4 years, to 62.4 years. Severe-handicap-free expect- ancy rose even more, 1.7 years, to 71.6 years. Female life expectancy rose in the same period by 1.4 years to 80.9 years, while the handicap-free span also increased 1.4 years, to 66.9 years, and the severe-handicap-free span by 1.7 years to 75.2 years. Expectancy of a life period free of any disability was steady at 58.4 years for males and 0.6 years higher at 64 years for females. The report's editor, the insti- tute's principal medical adviser Dr John Donovan, said while our health continued to improve, the overall levels were only around the middle of the OECD rankings. "We're not so good in the areas of injuries, cardiovascu- lar disease, cancers and respir- atory disorders, and there are still substantial differences among different groups within the Australian population," Dr Donovan said. Launching the report in Can- berra, the Minister for Health, Dr Wooldridge, said it would take almost a generation to' eliminate the indigenous health gap. "This report gives the pretty stark figures that the gap between Aboriginal health and the health of the rest of Aust- ralians is actually widening, it is getting worse," he said. The report says only South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT have separate, reliable data on indigenous health and urges the eastern States to start gathering such infor- mation.
A THREAT of a serious outbreak of measles existed because too many children were not immunised against the potentially fatal disease, a national survey has concluded. The 1995 National Lead Sur- vey into the disease found that between 13 per cent and 20 per cent of children appear not to have been immunised against measles and blood testing indi- cated the numbers of immune children might be overstated by the reporting process. Parents who participated in the survey were asked whether their children had suffered from measles, or whether they had been vacci- nated against measles and, if so, to produce records. "When the blood samples of the children reported to be immunised were tested, 87 per cent of those whose parents produced records were im- mune, but only 80 per cent of those whose parents did not produce records were immune," the study, reported in Aust- ralia's Health 1996, says. -ANDREW McGARRY
WHILE much of the rising health spending is attributed to higher costs for services, people appear to be getting better value for their health dollar by visiting the doctor more often. This is especially so since the average hospital stay is falling, to 4.6 days, according to the most recent figures, for 1993-94. Health spending rose about 4 per cent in 1993-94 to $36.66 billion, or $2066 per person, funded two-thirds by the State and federal governments and one-third by the private sector, according to the Australia's Health 1996 report. Medicare data shows that between 1984-85 and 1994-95, there was an average yearly increase of 3.7 per cent in visits to doctors by men. In the same period there was a 2.4 per cent annual increase in medical con- sultations for women. The report suggests rising consultations are at least partly due to improved access to doc- tors, citing a 35 per cent increase in the number of gen- eral practitioners between 1984 85 and 1992-93. -ANDREW McGARRY
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