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Significantly higher disease burden for Indigenous Australians - but improvements made

Date posted: 26 September 2016

A new report released on Friday by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) finds that although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians face a substantially higher disease burden than non-Indigenous Australians, improvements have been seen, with more possible.

Burden of disease is a modelling technique that combines multiple data sources to count and compare the total fatal and non‑fatal health loss from diseases and injuries in a population. Burden of disease quantifies the gap between a population's actual health and an ideal level of health in the given year. More than merely counting deaths and disease prevalence, burden of disease takes into account age at death and severity of disease to count the years of healthy life lost from death and illness. It also attributes this burden to various risk factors.

The last burden of disease study that provided estimates for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population was published in 2007 using data from 2003. The new report, Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2011 (ABDS 2011) aims to meet the need for detailed information about the burden of disease experienced by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in 2011 (the year with the best data available when this study commenced), how it has changed since 2003 and how it compares to the non-Indigenous population. 

The new report finds that in 2011, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians experienced a burden of disease that was more than twice that of non-Indigenous Australians.

Chronic diseases caused 64% of the overall burden among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, with mental and substance use disorders accounting for the largest proportion of the burden (19%). This was followed by injuries including suicide (15%), cardiovascular diseases (12%), cancer (9%) and respiratory diseases (8%).

Just over half (53%) of the overall burden was fatal burden, and males accounted for a greater share of the total than females (54% compared with 46%).

While the gap in disease burden between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians remains significant, the report shows some improvements among the Indigenous population in recent years.

Between 2003 and 2011, total burden of disease in the Indigenous population fell by 5%, with an 11% reduction in the fatal burden. However, over the same period, there was a 4% increase in non-fatal burden. This suggests a shift from dying prematurely to living longer with disease.

The non-Indigenous population experienced a 16% decrease in fatal burden and a 4% decrease in non-fatal burden over this period.

The largest reduction in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rate of total disease burden was for cardiovascular diseases. There were also falls in the burden caused by high blood pressure, physical inactivity and high cholesterol.

The results from the ABDS 2011 provide an evidence base to inform Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health policy, program and service delivery.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)

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Last updated: 29 September 2016
 
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Australia's National Research Centre on AOD Workforce Development National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre National Drug Research Institute