AIHW news

Exploring the short-term health impacts of the 2019–20 Australian bushfires

The article was originally posted on LinkedIn by Barry Sandison, AIHW CEO.

The 2019–20 bushfire season saw unprecedented fires sweep across Australia, with devastating impacts on many communities, the destruction of the natural environment and air quality compromised. Tragically, 33 people lost their lives.

Today we’ve released a new and significant AIHW report which explores some of the short-term health impacts of the Australian bushfires from September 2019 through to March 2020.

We’ve brought together and examined a range of health data sources to assess some of the more immediate health impacts, including: emergency department visits, GP visits, air quality, respiratory testing, mental health service use, pharmaceutical sales of asthma medicines and prescription dispensing data.

Through the interactive data visualisations, readers can explore some of the associations between poor air quality and health during the 2019–20 bushfire season for their region. They can also dive into how health-related data and air quality varied by region during the bushfires.

The results show clear links between increased bushfire activity, including poor air quality, and people seeking assistance for their health.

We know that natural disasters such as bushfires have a real impact on mental health. Data in this report show that, since the introduction of special Medicare subsidised bushfire mental health items, over 18,900 claims have been made by over 5,000 patients. While we do not yet know the full impact of the bushfires on the mental health of Australians, these data indicate that many of those affected are seeking help.

Keep an eye out for future AIHW analysis of emergency department data beyond New South Wales; as well as air quality and fire danger index data to provide a more comprehensive picture of the relationship between population exposure to bushfire smoke and health.

Congratulations to all the teams involved in the production of today’s report. Explore it in full here.

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