New report uncovers facts about health in rural and remote areas

A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Health in Rural and Remote Australia, compares the health of people living in rural and remote zones with those in metropolitan zones and has expected and unexpected findings.

Few people will be surprised to know that death rates from road vehicle accidents increase with increasing remoteness, but some will be surprised to learn that death rates from two major causes of death, stroke and cancer, vary little between the rural and remote areas and metropolitan areas.

The AIHW's first report devoted entirely to the health of rural and remote area Australians, Health in Rural and Remote Australia, is to be launched on Tuesday by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon. Dr Michael Wooldridge, and the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, the Hon. John Anderson.

Using the three zone/seven category Rural, Remote and Metropolitan Area classification, the report provides both data and analyses in chapters covering sociodemographics, health status, risk factors and preventive measures, health resources, and emerging issues. A wide range of national health data sources are used including death registrations, hospital statistics and the ABS 1995 National Health Survey.

People in rural and remote areas of Australia have poorer health than their metropolitan counterparts on several counts, including higher death rates and consequent lower life expectancy.

Australia's Indigenous peoples make up 2% of the whole population, ranging from 1% in the metropolitan zone and 3% in the rural zone to 21% in the remote zone. Co-author of the report, Dr Kathleen Strong, said that the impact of the generally poorer health of the Indigenous population on death rates and life expectancy is substantial only in the remote zone. She also said that care needs to be taken when interpreting these statistics-reliable Indigenous deaths data for 1992-1996 are available for only South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Dr Strong said there's nothing simple about rural and remote area health issues. 'For example, we see that overall, in the remote zone the death rate for Indigenous females is twice as high as that for all Australians, yet the rate for non-Indigenous females in that zone is almost 30 percent lower than that for all Australians. And in both the rural and remote zones the death rates for Indigenous females are significantly higher than those for Indigenous females in the metropolitan zone.'

'The report also found no difference in breast cancer screening rates across all zones, and the percentage of women who have regular Pap smear tests is similar across all zones.'


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