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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20035

Mr ANTHONY SMITH (4:09 PM) —I commend the previous speaker, the member for Ballarat, on the detailed contribution she has made to the debate on osteoporosis. I was somewhat disappointed that the member for Chisholm—who took the time to move this motion and for the first three of four minutes of her contribution kept it on a high plane—could not resist cheapening her remarks and the motion by blaming the government for osteoporosis. As the member for Ballarat and previous speakers have said, this is a critical, long-term health issue, an issue that requires even thought and an even tempered approach.

It is not just a critical health issue on its own; it symbolises in many respects the great challenges and demands that will increasingly confront our health system and our society both today and for decades into the future. As medical science improves and as life expectancy increases, we will be able to do many things that were previously not possible and to treat diseases in a more sophisticated way. In this respect, you can compare osteoporosis with many other diseases—such as MS, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, cancer and the like—inasmuch as in 20 years we have made so many critical advances and we know so much more about these diseases. However, as previous speakers have said—quite rightly—osteoporosis is different in that it can be avoided; it can be prevented.

As the Access Economics report and many other detailed studies in recent years have highlighted, diet and lifestyle are key, as are genetic predisposition and many other factors. The tragedy is that more than 1.9 million Australians—particularly women—are affected by osteoporosis. Many do not know it and do not become aware of it until far too late into their lives, when the bulk of the damage has been done. The cost to those with the disease is enormous not only for their health, wellbeing and quality of life but also for their family and friends who care for them. The cost to the community is also very large. Access Economics estimates that the cost to the health budget directly is in the order of $2 billion, but it importantly points out that the size of indirect costs with things such as loss of earnings and the costs of carers is nearly three times that, at $5.6 billion to $5.7 billion annually.

As we know, the disease results in bone fractures. It incapacitates and effectively cripples those afflicted, requiring lengthy hospitalisation and/or care in a nursing home. With better education and better understanding, literally millions of people in the future will be in a position where they do not have to face this disease and at the same time our overburdened health system will be able to direct resources into other major areas of demand.

I am pleased that the federal Minister for Health and Ageing has gained the agreement of all of the states to declare this a national health priority area, which has been important in focusing attention on the problem. I am also pleased that there has been a commitment to this area in the last couple of budgets as well. However, while there is a tangible and important role for government, there is also a large role for the medical community as well as for individuals within society. Preventive care, not just in this area but also in many other areas, needs to have a greater focus so that we can prevent diseases before they occur rather than have to treat them further down the track. In this respect, the more doctors can do with every patient—no matter what their visit is for—to inform them of the risks of these sorts of diseases, the better.

Parents can play a greater role with children. More and more kids at a young age—and teenagers—are suffering from obesity and we know that that sort of problem, that sort of lifestyle, will lead very directly in the future to serious health problems such as osteoporosis and diabetes. With 10 per cent of our population affected and the number likely to increase, we as a community have to do more. We have to combine to try to massively reduce this affliction and we can now do something to address it.