So it comes as no surprise that they have been described as “Australia’s greatest health challenge”.
Chronic diseases, also known as non-communicable diseases (NCDs), are health conditions which are of long duration, slow progression and are not transmitted from person to person.
These diseases significantly reduce quality of life, not just for the affected individual but also for their family and friends who may be bearing practical and emotional burdens. Approximately 2.7 million Australians provide informal care to an older person or someone with a long-term health condition or disability. This includes 770,000 who identified as the primary carer.
More broadly, chronic diseases also impose significant costs to Australia, through health system expenditure and reduced workforce participation and productivity.
Dealing with chronic disease comes at a $27 billion cost to the Australian community and accounts for more than a third (36%) of our national health budget.
And as Australia’s population ages, this chronic disease burden will grow, placing even greater pressure on our already overstretched health system.
The majority of chronic diseases can be traced back to four modifiable behavioural risk factors: tobacco use, alcohol use, physical inactivity and poor nutrition.
This has been recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) who have developed a set of global targets to achieve a 25 per cent reduction in the burden of chronic disease by the year 2025.
Australia is a signatory to this Global Action Plan, and with the 2025 deadline looming, it is imperative that decisive action be taken to ensure that these targets are met.
In order to give full effect to our commitment, Australian governments need to agree to and establish firm and definite targets to complement WHO’s Global Action Plan.
Putting prevention first
Prevention is the key to stemming the ever increasing tide of chronic diseases and reaching these global targets.
Sustained and increased efforts in these areas, as well as equivalent attention to other risk factors for chronic diseases, are likely to yield significant benefits to individuals and the community – reducing the incidence of disease, disability and death and resulting in improved societal standards about what constitutes healthy and ‘normal’ behaviour.
Prevention is not only good policy, it is good economics. Research has found that even a small package of four interventions could result in 650,000 fewer years lived with a disability for the Australian population and would generate $6 billion of net savings to the health system.
To ensure greater success in preventing chronic diseases, it is essential that the targets identified by WHO to address the common risk factors (tobacco, alcohol, diet and physical activity) are appropriately reflected in Australian preventive efforts.
This is where Prevention 1st comes in.
Prevention 1st is a new campaign by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), calling on all Australian governments and political parties to commit to a strong preventive health agenda to tackle Australia’s greatest health challenge.
With only ten years remaining to honour our WHO commitment, prevention must be a key focus of governments in order to reduce the burden of chronic disease.
Ensuring that preventive health is at the forefront of the healthcare agenda will ensure that Australia is once again seen as a leader in this space.