National Health Priority Areas

National Health Priority Areas

Australia’s National Health Priority Areas are diseases and conditions that contribute significantly to the burden of illness, and the resulting  high social and financial costs imposed on regional, rural and remote communities.

The targeted diseases and conditions were chosen because with appropriate and focused attention, significant gains in the health of the rural population can be achieved.

Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Disease

Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Disease are conditions in which inflammation of the joints cause pain, stiffness, disability and deformity. It also includes other joint problems and disorders of the bones, muscles and their attachments. The symptoms often have a significant impact on everyday life.

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Asthma is a chronic lung disease affecting people of all ages. It can be controlled, but not cured. The prevalence of asthma is significantly higher in people living in inner regional areas, compared with those in major cities or outer regional and remote areas.

1 in 10 children and adults (2.3 million people) suffer from asthma. 

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Cancer has a significant impact on individuals, families and the health care system. Despite a decline in cancer mortality and an increase in survival over time, one in two Australians will develop cancer and one in five will die from it before the age of 85.

The most commonly reported cancers for 2012 were:

  • Prostate cancer
  • Bowel cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Melanoma of the skin
  • Lung cancer.

Grouped together, these five cancers are estimated to account for more than 60% of all cancers in 2012.

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Cardiovascular health

Referred to under the broader terms heart disease or cardiovascular disease (CVD), this group of conditions encompass a range of circulatory conditions including ischaemic heart diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, oedema, heart failure, and diseases of the arteries, arterioles and capillaries.

Heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and therefore an emphasis has been placed around preventing its onset through modifying risk factors such as healthy eating, exercise and avoidance of smoking.

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Dementia, most commonly associated with older age, is not a single specific disease. It is an umbrella term associated with more than 100 diseases that are characterised by the impairment of brain functions, including language, memory, perception, personality and cognitive skills.

The most common types of dementia are Alzheimer disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and fronto-temporal dementia (which includes Pick disease).

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Diabetes is a chronic condition marked by high levels of glucose in the blood. It is caused either by the inability to produce insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas to control glucose levels), or by the body not being able to use insulin effectively, or both.

If left undiagnosed or poorly managed, diabetes can lead to cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney failure, limb amputations or blindness.

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Mental health

Mental illness is any clinically diagnosable disorder that significantly interferes with an individual’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities. The terms ‘mental illness’ and ‘mental disorder’ are both used to describe a wide spectrum of mental health and behavioural disorders, which can vary in both severity and duration.

The most prevalent mental illnesses are depression, anxiety and substance use disorders. Less prevalent, and often more severe illnesses include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder.

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Osteoporosis and osteopenia

Osteoporosis is a condition of the musculoskeletal system in which a person’s bones become fragile and brittle, leading to an increased risk of fractures. Fractures can lead to chronic pain, disability and loss of independence. Osteopenia is a condition when bone mineral density is lower than normal but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. Older people and post-menopausal women are at greater risk of having these conditions.

Risk factors associated with osteoporosis include:

  • increasing age
  • being female and a family history of the condition
  • low vitamin D levels and low intake of calcium
  • low body weight, smoking, excess alcohol consumption, and physical inactivity,
  • long-term corticosteroid use and a reduced oestrogen level.

Five times more women compared with men aged 50 or over have osteoporosis or osteopenia—15.1% of women and 3.3% of men.

$306 million of the total direct expenditure allocated to arthritis and other musculoskeletal diseases was attributed  to osteoporosis in 2008–09.

Nearly 1 in 10 Australians aged 50 and over (approximately 652,500 people) have osteoporosis or osteopenia.

Back pain and problems

Back problems are a range of conditions related to the bones, joints, connective tissue, muscles and nerves of the back. These conditions are a significant cause of disability and lost productivity. The chronic and widespread nature of back problems often leads to poorer quality of life, psychological distress, bodily pain and disability. Overall, people aged 18 and over with back problems are 2.6 times as likely to report very high levels of psychological distress (6.9%) than those without the condition (2.7%).

1 in 7 Australians (or 3 million people) reported back problems in 2012 .

In 2012 the prevalence  of back problems  was higher in inner regional (15.7%) and outer regional and remote (15.2%) areas compared to major cities (12.3%).

In 2008–09, $1.2 billion, or 1.8% of selected disease allocated  health care expenditure, was attributed  to back problems.

Overweight and obesity

Over half of Australians are trying to lose weight. Only 30% of Australians who are obese (based on their BMI) described their weight status as obese. Furthermore, only one in three obese people are concerned about their weight.

It is estimated that by 2025, the number of Australians considered overweight or obese will increase to more than 70%, with approximately one third of the adult population classified as obese.

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