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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9327


Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (20:29): Haemochromatosis Awareness Week was held last week, between 13 and 19 August, to raise awareness of a common but little-known disorder. Haemochromatosis is a disorder that many people may not be familiar with, yet it is one of the most common inherited genetic disorders in Australia. One in 200 Australians with European ancestry is affected by it; in fact, my son-in-law is a carrier but does not have the disease.

Haemochromatosis is a build-up of iron leading to iron overload in the body. Our bodies normally absorb only the amount of iron that they need from our food each day. People with haemochromatosis absorb too much iron. Their bodies store excess iron, in time leading to an iron overload. The condition is seriously underdiagnosed. Many people suffer symptoms of the disorder without realising the underlying cause. The most common symptoms people experience include chronic fatigue, weakness, lethargy, weight loss and joint pain leading to arthritis. These are all chronic diseases that come from haemochromatosis, along with liver cirrhosis and liver cancer, diabetes, heart muscle weakness and serious tissue damage—all preventable if haemochromatosis is diagnosed early enough.

Not everyone will experience these symptoms. Each person has their own individual level at which they might start to feel some of the symptoms of iron overload. Some people will have no symptoms at all; however, serious organ and tissue damage is still being done in the absence of symptoms. This is why early diagnosis is so important. Haemochromatosis is diagnosed by a simple blood test which can be easily done at your next check-up with your GP. Your doctor can order blood tests to check your iron levels. If there is a reason to believe you might have haemochromatosis your doctor can test you via another simple blood test for the gene mutation which causes the disorder.

The good news is that haemochromatosis is easily treated once diagnosed. If detected before damage is caused, treatment can ensure that people live healthy, successful and long lives. The uncontroversial and simple treatment for haemochromatosis is giving blood to unload the iron from your body, known as venesection. As well as unloading the iron from your body you are doing a social good by donating your blood. It is the same method used for blood donations. Haemochromatosis is not a blood disease, so many people receiving treatment at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service can still donate their blood, as did the member for Fowler, and I am sure he will share his story with the House shortly. The blood service is able to use blood donations from people with haemochromatosis to save lives, provided they are eligible to donate blood.

Haemochromatosis Awareness Week is so important because early diagnosis is vital to prevent organ damage, serious health problems and even premature death. It can have serious consequences for your health but it is easily treated with early diagnosis, and it is simple. Haemochromatosis Australia is a voluntary, not-for-profit support and advocacy group for people with haemochromatosis. The group's aim is to raise awareness of the condition to make sure that people are diagnosed with the condition before serious damage occurs. They have an information line which people can call for the cost of a local call to get more information about haemochromatosis. The number is: 13019028.

If you have been diagnosed with haemochromatosis it is important to talk to your family about being tested. Children are not usually tested until they are 18 years old. Early diagnosis gives the family the chance to take control of the condition and ensure, with simple treatment, that their lives are relatively unaffected. It can be difficult to explain these things, and the Haemochromatosis Australia information line can also help you talk to your family. I am pleased to support Haemochromatosis Awareness Week and I ask all members to join me in helping Haemochromatosis Australia achieve their vision that no Australian experiences the symptoms of haemochromatosis, by raising awareness of the condition in their electorate.