Heart disease more likely to kill regional, rural and remote Australians

New research has revealed people living in regional, rural or remote Australia are 90 per cent more likely to die from heart conditions caused by high blood pressure than people living in metropolitan areas.

The Heart of Inequality report from the Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research (MMIHR) at ACU highlights key disparities in heart disease across Australia, especially for regional and Indigenous Australians.

Officially launched on Wednesday 18 October at Parliament House in Canberra to members of Parliament, the study found a combination of factors relating to socio-economic status, geographical location, and access to health services drive large disparities in cardiovascular disease (CVD) health outcomes. Key findings include:

  • The burden of chronic heart disease is continually increasing, with an estimate of 800,000 (coronary artery disease), 170,000 (heart failure) and 330,000 (atrial fibrillation) hospital admissions per annum among Australians aged 35 years and over.
  • Inequality in heart disease is most evident among Indigenous Australians living in communities remote to central health services. For example, Indigenous Australians living in Central Australia develop heart failure on average 20 years younger than the general population.
  • Despite progressive improvements in treating acute events, Australians lucky enough to survive their first cardiac event will inevitably develop a chronic (and inherently costly) form of heart disease that will impair their quality of life and reduce their longevity.

Dr Yih-Kai Chan, lead author and research fellow at MMIHR called for the establishment of an expert advisory group to address the growing disparities in heart disease across Australia.

“Indigenous Australians and people living in regional and rural Australia experience greater heart disease risk and poorer disease outcomes in the context of often limited health care resources.

“In a geographically sparse continent, these gaps pose significant challenges for matching health services to individual needs to improve persistently poor health outcomes associated with chronic heart disease.

“To make matters worse, our ageing population coupled with an evolving sedentary lifestyle means chronic heart disease will continue to be one of the leading causes of death, disability and very poor quality of life among adult Australians in the foreseeable future.

“To address these growing disparities, we recommend establishing an Inequality in Heart Disease Expert Advisory Group and implementing a national Nurse Practitioner program for the prevention and management of heart disease for Indigenous and regional Australians,” he said.

The report is part of a research collaboration with the National Health and Medical Council’s (NHMRC) Centres of Research Excellence to Reduce Inequality in Heart Disease.

The updated estimates for the overall burden of heart disease in Australia uses the latest population statistics in each state and Commonwealth Electoral Division from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. All analyses were supervised by the Principal Investigator and all data sources have obtained appropriate approval from a Human Research Ethics Committee that compiles with the NHMRCH National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.

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