4 August 1999
One in four Aussie kids has asthma - Ministers agree on National Health Priority
Asthma is to become Australia's sixth National Health Priority Area - in recognition of the unacceptably high rates of the disease which now affects one in four Australian primary school children.
Meeting in Canberra today, Australian Health Ministers agreed to the strategy, acknowledging the personal, social and economic toll asthma was taking on the community.
More than two million Australians have asthma compared with 1.4 million ten years ago. Evidence also suggests that the disease itself is becoming more severe.
Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Dr Michael Wooldridge, said almost 60 per cent of asthma deaths might be preventable.
"The good news is that the actual number of deaths from asthma has been steadily decreasing from a peak of 964 in 1989 to 715 in 1997," Dr Wooldridge said.
"This reflects the ongoing success of better treatment and management options, education programs and campaigns about the disease.
"However, with Australia now holding the dubious record of having one of the highest rates of asthma in the world, this is clearly a debilitating and potentially life-threatening problem that requires immediate national attention.
Dr Wooldridge said that over the next year, a report on asthma would be developed so that a coordinated effort could be made nationally to combat the problem.
He said asthma would now join the five other National Health Priority Areas, which were cardiovascular health, cancer control, injury prevention and control, mental health and diabetes mellitus.
As well as affecting young children, one in seven teenagers and one in 10 adults have asthma.
In 1995-96, asthma was the most common reason for hospital admission among children while across all ages it ranked seventh. Asthma is also one of the 10 most common reasons for seeing a GP.
Hosting the meeting in Canberra, ACT Health Minister, Michael Moore, said that in addition to the personal cost, the national cost of asthma to the health system in 1993-94 was estimated at more than $470 million.
Mr Moore said that today's decision signalled a clear message that this prevalent disease, which affects so many young people, was now a matter of top priority for all Governments.
Media Contact: Adam Connolly, Dr Wooldridge's Office: 02 6277 7220
Rachel Hill, Mr Moore's Office: 0407 231 984
Dr Christine Jenkins, Chair, National Asthma Campaign: 029 957 2344
Ms Belle Cheney, President, Asthma Australia: 088 278 1505; 0408 107 713