Message from the CEO

Dr Zoran BolevichEvery 2 years, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) produces its flagship report on Australia’s health – this year marks the 19th edition in the series.

Australia’s health 2024 comes at a time when we consider how Australia and the health system are faring after a once in a century event. 

While COVID-19 poses continuing risks for some people in Australia, the overall risks for the Australian population have reduced with the widespread uptake of vaccines and treatment. Australia’s health 2024 considers where Australia’s health and health system stand now, and what other ongoing and future health challenges remain. 

Australia generally ranks well internationally on important health measures; for example, life expectancy is high and infant mortality is low. 

Over the last 100 years, life expectancy in Australia has increased considerably, and deaths from infectious diseases have declined. However, in 2022, COVID-19 became the third leading cause of death in Australia – marking the first time in over 50 years that an infectious disease had been in the top 5 causes of death. For the first time since the mid-1990's, Australia also saw a very slight drop in life expectancy in 2020–22, but it was considerably smaller than countries such as the United States and United Kingdom.

Today, chronic conditions – also known as long-term health conditions – are an ongoing cause of substantial ill health, disability and premature death in Australia. Three in 5 people are living with at least one chronic condition and 2 in 5 are living with 2 or more. 

Chronic conditions present a key challenge for individuals, health providers and society as a whole. Individuals with chronic conditions often have complex needs that require services from all levels of the health system. Australia’s ageing population presents an extra challenge through the increased demand for services to care for and support people living with chronic conditions.

Australia’s population is diverse, and health and health outcomes differ across groups and by geographical location. Health inequalities persist for many population groups – including for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (First Nations) people and people living in rural and remote communities.

In recent years, the health system has been tested. The emergence of COVID-19 triggered an upsurge in demand for health services, and the redirection and repurposing of health resources. Australia’s health 2024 shows that, early in the pandemic, cancer screenings and procedures were missed or delayed. Elective surgeries were also disrupted and numbers have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. 

But the pandemic also led to innovations in telehealth, digital health, and pandemic response strategies; for example, the report shows that changes to delivery of services via telehealth in Australia show no signs of reverting to pre-pandemic levels.

A notable by-product of the pandemic is that – for a time – health data were at the forefront of Australians’ minds. 

At the pandemic’s peak, daily case numbers improved risk awareness and influenced individuals’ behaviours. Simultaneously, surveillance and monitoring data were used to inform health guidance and recommendations on measures such as mask-wearing, physical distancing and vaccines. 

But the usefulness of health data extends far beyond such emergencies.

High-quality data and information are essential for monitoring all types of population health challenges, enabling long-term planning, the development of health-care policies, promotion of health equity, support for research and innovation and improved delivery and quality of health‑care services.

As did past editions of Australia’s health, this year’s flagship demonstrates the value of our national health data collections. It does so by answering fundamental questions about the health of Australians and Australia’s health services.  

The report presents some good news stories – for example, since the National Cervical Screening Program was introduced in 1991, the mortality rate for cervical cancer has halved in women aged 25–74. 

It also explores current activities to improve the evidence base available to support decision making – such as national data linkage projects, which bring together information from multiple data sources to provide more detailed health information about Australia’s population. For example, the National Health Data Hub has yielded important findings about Australians living with dementia in the community and their movement into aged care following a stay in hospital. 

Australia’s health 2024 comprises 3 products: 

  • Australia’s health 2024: data insights (this report) – a collection of in-depth articles on selected health topics
  • Australia’s health 2024: in brief – a summary report presenting key findings and concepts for a holistic picture of health in Australia
  • Australia’s health: topic summaries – a collection of 60+ web pages that present key information and statistics on the health of Australians, the health system and factors that can influence health (some are periodically updated).

Since its first release in 1988, Australia’s health has been an authoritative source of health information for policy advisors, service providers, researchers and the public. I am confident Australia’s health 2024 will continue this trend and play an important role in supporting better decisions today on health policy and service delivery.

I would like to thank everyone involved in producing this report and acknowledge the valuable advice provided by many experts throughout the drafting and review stages. 

We are committed to improving the usefulness and relevance of our flagship reports and welcome your feedback via [email protected].

Dr Zoran Bolevich