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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20030

Ms BURKE (3:54 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that a study commissioned by Osteoporosis Australia and a subsequent report titled The Burden of Brittle Bones indicated that osteoporosis is a disease that is becom-ing increasingly prevalent in our comm-unities;

(2) notes that this report further indicated that it should be recognised that osteoporosis is a preventable and treat-able disease and with more research the current trend could be reversed;

(3) notes with concern the statistics in this report that indicate the projected increase in numbers of patients within the population diagnosed with osteoporosis—in 2001, 1.9 million Australians, 10% of the population, were diagnosed as suffering from osteo-porosis and by 2021 this figure is expected to rise to 13.2%;

(4) recognises the enormous cost to the health services, the community, to individual suffer-ers and their carers; and

(5) calls on the Government to recognise osteo-porosis as a national health priority.

The report commissioned by Osteoporosis Australia, titled The burden of brittle bones: costing osteoporosis in Australia,is an alarming document that has gone largely unnoticed in this House. It is alarming because it brings to the forefront this widespread, disabling and sometimes fatal disease. Far from the minor condition that many believe it is, osteoporosis is a leading cause of doctors' visits, prescriptions and home nursing. This insidious and serious affliction is the major cause of disability and handicap in Australia. It is the primary cause of hip fractures and spinal vertebrae collapse. Moreover, these and other effects of the disease inhibit otherwise productive lives. In turn, this destroys the individual and their family.

Unbeknown to most, there were 1.9 million Australians with osteoporosis in 2001, with the majority of these being women. Put in terms of hospitalisation, this equals one person hospitalised every 8.1 minutes. This frightening statistic will worsen, with a 60 per cent increase expected over the next two decades. This increase will equate to an osteoporotic hospitalisation every 3.7 minutes by 2021. The pressure this will place on our health services and resources will be enormous, and it will be nothing short of a miracle for them to cope. This is not some type of scare tactic; this awful disease has a higher prevalence than allergies, deafness and diabetes, and is even more prevalent than the common cold.

Although the disease is so widespread and studies have shown that there is an awareness of it within the broader community, there is still a lack of understanding and a lack of knowledge of this disease. As a result, osteoporosis will cause bone fractures in about 25 per cent of women and 17 per cent of men. Of those that are unfortunate enough to suffer hip fractures, about 20 per cent, sadly, will die within 6 months of the fracture. Even more frightening is that the rate of hip fractures is rising at an incredible rate. By 2020, one-third of Australian hospital beds will be occupied by women with fractures. It truly is `the silent epidemic'.

Given the prevalence of the disease and the expense to treat it, the costs are enormous. In 2000-01 the total health cost of osteoporosis was close to $1.9 billion, with half of this being hospital costs. In the same period, this insidious disease resulted in over 110,000 fewer people in the work force and over 162,000 cases of absenteeism from work. These and other indirect costs came to a total of over $5½ billion—a staggering amount, by any stretch of the imagination.

Putting this back into a compassionate human perspective, more important than money and the financial cost is the cost that people pay through pain and suffering and, in over 1,000 cases per year, with their lives. Osteoporosis represents one per cent of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia, with over half of the disease burden being due to premature mortality—that is, over 13,000 premature deaths. This means that it is a greater burden in this country than HIV-AIDS, cervical cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

Put in perspective, what do all these figures mean? Musculoskeletal disorders are the third leading cause of health system expenditure in Australia. Osteoporosis costs on their own are higher than those of diabetes and asthma. Given the demographic projections of population ageing coupled with the lack of immediate health intervention, osteoporotic conditions are set to increase to epidemic proportions. This is of grave concern to most—except, I gather, to those sitting on the other side of this chamber.

Considering the World Health Organisation has defined osteoporosis as a primary health issue since it is filling more hospital beds than any other disease, why is this dreadful disease not given greater importance and classified as a national health priority area? Why, unlike in the US and the EU, has there not been a concerted response from the government in any area concerning osteoporosis? The EU and the US are heeding the advice that, left unwatched and untreated, this disease will be the epidemic of the future if we fail to act now.

Of their own accord, Osteoporosis Australia have had to initiate education and awareness programs, especially towards fracture prevention. They have done this largely without assistance. All they have asked is that osteoporosis be adopted by the government as a national health priority and be provided corresponding funding, and that the national strategic plan detailed in their report is adopted by the government. These requests were made in this report two years ago, and what has been done so far by the government? Nothing. Keeping true to form, the government continues to be out of reach to these organisations that are trying to help others in need—the perfect application of that old Liberal favourite of, `If their vote won't make a difference, let's ignore them and they'll go away.' I congratulate Osteoporosis Australia on their excellent work to date and on commissioning this important report. I simultaneously condemn the Liberal government's inaction in this vital area.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Is the motion seconded?

Ms King —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.