The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) have today released the 2015 data on ‘burden of disease’. This rich and detailed data drills down into the number of years of healthy life that are lost to injury, illness or premature deaths in our country. As always, measuring the impact of disease provides us with some valuable insights.
The leading causes of total burden in Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) in 2015 were cancer (18% of total burden), cardiovascular diseases (14%), musculoskeletal conditions (13%), mental health and substance use disorders (12%) and injuries (8.5%). Together, these disease groups caused around two-thirds of the burden in Australia and have been consistently the main contributors for over a decade.
This data confirms what a lot of people living in the community know: living with chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, low back pain and mental health conditions is a long and often painful journey that takes a significant toll on quality of life, a finding shared in our recently released Deloitte Access Economics report on the Cost of Pain in Australia.
But this year AIHW’s data also sees the emergence of a new and significant trend: in 2015, Australians lost more healthy years of life from living with a disease or injury (which accounted for 50.4% of the total health loss) than from dying prematurely (which accounted for the remainder, 49.6%). In 2015, Australians lost 4.8 million years of healthy life (DALY) due to:
This is a significant change. It reminds us that though our medical system has evolved and many chronic conditions are no longer fatal, living with chronic disease still takes a very large toll - one that is now larger than the toll of fatality.
When you unpack the data a bit more, it’s not hard to see why. For both males and females, the leading causes of non-fatal burden were back pain and related problems, anxiety disorders and depressive disorders, followed by asthma (ranked fourth in males and fifth in females).
On top of this burden of living with chronic disease, is the additional layer of disadvantage. The report finds that a 20% reduction in burden could be achieved if all Australians experienced the same rate of disease burden as the most advantaged socioeconomic group.
It is clear that socio and psychological aspects of an individual’s life impact their biological outcomes – something we have known for some time and is well recognised in the pain field. Recent years have seen a significant growth in people’s understanding and awareness of mental health problems, which is undeniably a great thing. We need to now be prepared to address the link between chronic pain and chronic disease, as well the impact socioeconomic settings have on a person’s psychological and health outcomes. There is a large cost to pay if we don't.
Painaustralia will continue to advocate for the implementation of a National Action Plan that addresses the biopsychosocial approach to management in order to reduce this incredible burden of disease that is affecting the millions of us living with chronic pain.