Global Health Issues 2019: Australia

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Fraser Clarke

Health issues are always evolving, with each country and continent having its own unique set of challenges. In the latest in our exclusive new series, Global Health Issues, we’ll take a look at each country we work with, and examine what conditions are most prevalent there.

In the final article in the series we’re focusing on Australia. One of the world’s most popular expat locations. 

Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease is one of the world’s biggest killers, and it remains Australia’s biggest single cause of death.

Rates in the 1980s were amongst the world's highest, however since then they have been gradually dropping nationwide. The latest detailed statistics on the subject (published in 2015) showed that around one-in-five Australians died either directly because of coronary heart disease, or because of a linked reason.

Coronary heart disease occurs when the arteries leading to the heart become blocked by fatty substances. It can be closely linked to a poor diet, smoking, high levels of cholesterol and diabetes and commonly leads to heart attacks.

The condition is incurable, however lifestyle alterations such as partaking in more exercise, cutting out fatty foods and quitting smoking can allow a patient to manage it more effectively.

Coronary heart disease mainly affects older Australians these days, and rates are dropping amongst younger people as education on the condition continues to improve. For now, however, it remains the country’s biggest healthcare issue.

Lung Cancer

As with everywhere else in the world at this moment in time, Cancer is one of the biggest issues facing the health of the nation - and in Australia lung Cancer is the form of the condition which causes the most deaths.

85% of lung Cancer cases are caused by the use of (or excessive exposure to) tobacco. Its symptoms can leave patients short of breath, coughing aggressively and even leads to the coughing up of blood if it is not caught at an early stage.

Whilst consuming tobacco is the most common contributing factor to lung Cancer, those exposed to chemicals such as radon, asbestos and nickel will also find themselves at an increased risk of the condition.

Around 5% of all deaths in Australia each year are as a result of lung Cancer, with the condition manifesting itself in two forms, small cell and non-small cell. 

Small cell is when the Cancer has not spread to the lymph glands, and this can usually be treated with chemotherapy. In non small cases - where the Cancer has spread further - more powerful chemotherapy or radiotherapy is often combined with surgery to help attempt to remove the Cancerous tumours.

The success of these operations can vary depending on the health of the patient, how far the tumours have spread and how early the initial signs were detected.

Mental Illness

The number of people suffering from mental illnesses globally is on the rise as the stigma is lost and people become more aware of their mental wellbeing.

Australia does not buck the global trend. Around 1 in 5 Aussies experience the symptoms of a mental health disorder every year. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the country, affecting 14.4% of those battling issues, whilst depression was one of the country’s leading causes of suicide. 

In order to try and help those with mental health issues in the country, and in order to reduce the steadily increasing suicide rate, Australia has invested generously in its mental health services. More information than ever is available for citizens, whilst a range of centres have been opened to allow individuals to speak with specialists about the issues that they are facing.

Mental health is now more widely known about than ever before. However a stigma still remains, especially amongst the elderly.  With an ageing population Australia faces a difficult task to try and get everyone to speak openly about their mental health.

Inequalities 

Australia is home to a unique group of indigenous people - the Aborigines and Strait Islanders.

These people lead a unique way of life that mixes modern technology with ancient traditions. Their lifestyle however is increasingly being seen as unhealthy, with dangerous jobs and smoking highly common, whilst more mainstream, modern, healthcare is shunned by many of the population’s elderly individuals who refuse to trust it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore this has lead to the life expectancy for the Aboriginal people dropping to over 10 years lower than the country’s average.

The Australian Government has a big task on its hands therefore if it is aiming to work with the Aboriginal people to deal with the all too blatant inequalities that exist in the healthcare they receive. To do this it needs to build up a trusting relationship between the healthcare sector and the Aboriginal community, something that it is currently failing to do.

COPD

Also linked with smoking and the lungs is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, normally referred to as COPD. COPD causes the death of around 220 out of every 100,000 people yearly, and this rate has remained steady over the past 40 years.

The condition is common amongst older smokers and former smokers, especially men, and often goes undetected until it becomes more severe. It causes chronic breathlessness as a result of damage done to the lungs, and also puts patients at a higher risk of chest infections. 

Whilst smoking tobacco is the major cause, inhaling harmful dust or fumes is also a major factor in the development of COPD - especially amongst the elderly population - with new health & safety laws outlawing the working conditions that caused these issues.

The damage caused to the lungs by COPD is permanent, and the condition gets progressively worse the longer time goes on. Despite this a mixture of medication, inhalers and exercise routines will keep the lungs performing as well as they can, and should make breathing slightly easier.

COPD rates in Australia have remained at a similar level for a long period now, however recent statistics have shown that many young people are turning their backs on tobacco - the main factor causing the illness. It may take time to be proven, however in the future rates should be dramatically lower than they currently are.

Could you help Australia battle against any of the conditions outlined here? Register on our website to start your Odyssey today. A dream move could be closer than you might imagine.