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Asthma monitoring in Australia has received a $600,000 kick-start with the establishment of the Australian Centre for Asthma Monitoring (ACAM) -- a collaborating unit of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
The Centre will be based at the Institute of Respiratory Medicine, Sydney, and is the focus of a Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing initiative to establish a national system for tracking the disease.
'The prevalence of asthma in Australia remains one of the highest in the world. Some estimates suggest more than 2 million Australians are affected by it', Health Minister Senator Kay Patterson said today.
'And although deaths from asthma have fallen in the past decade, we still have unacceptably high death rates, especially in the older age groups. Asthma is also a major reason for health care visits and lost productivity.
'This is why the Commonwealth and State and Territory Ministers for Health named asthma as a National Health Priority Area, and established a National Asthma Reference Group to oversee efforts to combat the disease.
Director of the new Centre, Dr Guy Marks, said 'At ACAM, for the first time, we will be able to analyse, centrally, data from sources throughout Australia to provide greater insight into various aspects of the disease.
'There is an array of data being collected in Australia, but we need to standardise it and make it more comprehensive in some areas so we can make better use of it.
'Our first job, in fact, is to define what constitutes a case of asthma-should we count all people who have ever wheezed or only those with more frequent or severe wheezing and shortness of breath?
'We will be working with Commonwealth, State and Territory government bodies, academic institutions and non-government organisations in following up areas such as underlying trends in death rates, hospitalisations, emergency room admissions, user prescriptions, GP visits, and the impact of asthma on people's quality of life.
'Intensive analysis of the data will help us to better assess the effectiveness of current asthma control and management strategies, and allow us to measure the burden asthma places on the community,' Dr Marks said.
Director of the AIHW, Dr Richard Madden, said the $600,000 would fund ACAM for an initial 18 months, bringing together the asthma and epidemiological expertise of the Institute of Respiratory Medicine and the statistical expertise of the AIHW.
ACAM's first major report on asthma will be published in April 2003.
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