Asthma deaths on the decline but burden remains high

The most comprehensive set of asthma data ever compiled in Australia has been released today by the Australian Centre for Asthma Monitoring (ACAM)-a collaborating unit of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Asthma in Australia 2003 shows that the prevalence of asthma in Australia remains one of the highest in the world, affecting 14-16% of children and 10-12% of adults. The disease has an important impact on use of health services, time lost from work or study and general well-being.

Children, particularly those under 5 years, have higher rates of hospitalisation and emergency department visits for asthma than adults. More boys than girls have the disease. However, after teenage years, asthma is more common in women than in men.

Indigenous Australians have higher asthma hospitalisation rates than non-Indigenous Australians, particularly among adults.

But there is some good news. Deaths due to asthma are uncommon and rates have fallen by more than half since the late 1980s. Hospitalisation for asthma among children has also reduced during the 1990s.

ACAM Director, Dr Guy Marks, said that despite these gains, Australia still had a long way to go in the fight against asthma.

'Although deaths from asthma have fallen in the past decade, asthma is still a major reason for health care visits and lost productivity.'

'Asthma is a common reason for people to visit their GPs, particularly among young children. About 3% of all GP attendances between 1998-99 to 2001-02 were for asthma.

'There's also a lot of room for improvement in ways we manage the disease-asthma action plans are very important in helping many people control their asthma and stay out of hospital."

'However, the report shows that many people with asthma, particularly young men, still don't have asthma action plans.'

The report also shows that smoking remains a problem among people with asthma. Young males with asthma aged 18 to 34 years, in particular those living in disadvantaged areas, were the most likely to smoke.

Among children with asthma, about 42% of boys and 39% of girls reported living with one or more regular smokers.

Overall, people with asthma rated their health poorer than those without the disease.

ACAM has been established under the National Health Priority Areas (NHPA) initiative of the Australian governments to track underlying changes in asthma and its risk factors in Australia . The Centre, a collaborating unit of the AIHW, is located at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney.

10 October 2003


Further information: Guy Marks, ACAM tel. 0419 251 565;
Kuldeep Bhatia, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1144; mobile 0417 880 300
Media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032