The health of Australians

CHAPTER 2 The health of Australians

When you finish this chapter you should be able to:


Part of understanding the health care system of any country requires having some knowledge of the patterns of disease. This knowledge allows you to make some judgments about what kind of health system would best meet the needs of the population. Knowledge of patterns of disease is referred to as epidemiology.

Epidemiology is a process of identifying the incidence and location of diseases in order to control them. One of the first recorded epidemiologists was Dr John Snow, who was concerned about the cholera epidemics that were occurring in London in the 1830s and 1840s. He was convinced that this disease was not transmitted through the air as was then believed but through people coming into contact with each other, in particular through contact with the vomit and excreta of cholera patients.

During the outbreak of another epidemic in 1854 he decided to record on a map the incidence of each cholera case in central London and noticed as he did so that most were congregated around certain street pumps. In those days there was no running water in the houses and water had to be collected by pail from the nearest street pump. Dr Snow’s map indicated that some street pumps had no surrounding incidences of cholera while others had a very high incidence. When Snow matched the two water companies that provided water to London’s city pumps he found that one (the one with many cholera cases adjacent to their pumps — amounting to up to 200 deaths per day) was collecting water from the Thames River below the sewerage outlet, while the other (which had no cholera cases adjacent to their pumps) was collecting water from high up the river, above the sewerage outlet. He then marched the city fathers down to one of the contaminated pumps and removed the handle, forcing local residents to use safer pumps. The number of cholera cases in that area dropped immediately, thus proving his theory that cholera was a contagious disease transmitted through body fluids from person to person, and in this case via the medium of water.

Epidemiology of disease in Australia

Non-communicable diseases

Eighty-six percent of diseases in developed countries nowadays are non-communicable. These include heart and vascular diseases, cancers, most diseases of the muscular, joint and respiratory systems and mental illness. What do these diseases cost the health care system?

From Table 2.1 it is interesting to note that health expenditure is not necessarily tied to rates of death. For example, cancer has the second highest rate of death at 28.7% but the amount of money spent on it is lower than on musculoskeletal diseases with a death rate only around 4%. This is because cancer tends to be a much shorter-term illness and therefore claims less in terms of hospital and other medical costs than longer-term diseases.

Mar 24, 2017 | Posted by in MEDICAL ASSISSTANT | Comments Off on The health of Australians
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