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How are priority issues for Australias health identified?
Critique the use of epidemiology to describe health status by considering questions such as:
- What can epidemiology tell us?
- Who uses these measures?
- Do they measure everything about health status?
Epidemiology is used by governments and health-related organisations to obtain a picture of the health status of a population,
to identify the patterns of health and disease, and analyse how health services and facilities are being used. Epidemiology
considers the patterns of disease in terms of:
- Prevalence (the number of cases of disease in a population at a specific time
- Incidence (the number of new cases of disease occurring in a population)
- Distribution (extent)
- Apparent causes (determinants and indicators)
Epidemiological data and information about population health can be used by a variety of people and agencies as evidence to
improve their decision making, planning and implementation of health programs and strategies. I.e.
- Department of Health use mortality, disease prevalence and cancer screening to inform the development of
policies like the National Chronic Disease Strategy
- Ageing and NSW Health use data on health status, health expenditure, equity, demographic changes, community
expectations and health workforce shortages to identify challenges in its state health plan
Limitation of epidemiology
- Do not always show the significant variations in the health status among population subgroups
- Might not accurately indicate quality of life in terms of peoples level of distress, impairment, disability or
handicap. Statistics tell us little about the degree and impact of illness
- Cannot provide the whole health picture. Data on some areas, such as mental health, are incomplete or non-
- Fail to explain why health inequalities persist
- Do not account for the health determinants the social, economic, environmental and cultural factors that
shape health

Use tables and graphs from health reports to analyse current trends in life expectancy and major causes of morbidity
and mortality for the general population and comparing males and females

Argue the case for why decisions are made about health priorities by considering questions such as:

- How do we identify priority issues for Australias health?
- What role do the principles of social justice play?
- Why is it important to prioritise?
The determination of priorities for health spending can be very challenging. Different people in the community will take
different perspectives. The Australian government has determined that along with epidemiology, the following considerations
are important.
Social justice principles
Social justice means that the rights of all people in our community are considered in a fair and equitable manner. While equal
opportunity targets everyone in the community, social justice targets the marginalised and disadvantaged groups of people in
our society. Public policies should ensure that all people have equal access to health care services. People living in isolated
communities should have the same access to clean water and sanitation as a person living in an urban area. People of a low
socioeconomic background should receive the same quality health services that a person in a higher socioeconomic income
receives. Information designed to educate the community must be provided in languages that the community can understand.
Priority population groups
High levels of preventable chronic disease, injury and mental health problems have been identified as one of the priority health
issues for Australians. Within each of these health areas, certain groups in our population have been identified as at increased
risk of developing these diseases or health conditions. By identifying at risk population groups, government health care
expenditure and health promotion initiatives can be directed towards these groups to attempt to reduce the prevalence of the
Prevalence of condition
Analysing statistics allows us to interpret the prevalence of a condition or disease. Prevalence means how common a condition
is in the community. Morbidity statistics are reliable indicators of the prevalence of a condition. They can often highlight points
of difference for the same condition, e.g. the mortality (death) rate for a disease/condition may be low but the morbidity rate
quite high. Governments can then look at the reasons why (e.g. improved technology for detection and treatment) and further
allocate resources. Hospital admissions and health surveys are two examples of how statistics are accumulated to give us a
picture of the health status of a population.
Potential for prevention and early intervention
There are many behaviours that can influence the incidence and prevalence of diseases and conditions. These are often related
to lifestyle behaviours, e.g. smoking, lack of physical activity and a diet high in fat and salt increase a persons risk of
cardiovascular disease. By making lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, regularly exercising, limiting alcohol intake and
refraining from smoking, many lifestyle related conditions can be prevented. For example, cardiovascular disease has some very
highly preventable risk factors including smoking and lack of physical activity. An individual could modify their lifestyle by
stopping smoking and taking up regular exercise in order to decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
For many Australians, behaviour change is difficult to achieve. There are many social and environmental factors that influence
behaviour, e.g. access to mammograms for people from isolated areas.
Making decisions about the allocation of resources for health issues is a complex one. Changing behavioural, social and
environmental determinants provides great potential for decreasing the burden of poor health on the individual and society. It
is through prevention and early intervention where some diseases and conditions, if detected in the early stages, can be treated
successfully. Examples where early detection and intervention have been successful in reducing mortality rates include breast
and skin cancer.
Costs to the individual and community
Ill health impacts across all aspects of a persons life. Loss of life, quality of life and the financial burden to a family, are
examples of the detrimental effect of developing a chronic health condition. Many people, who suffer from serious illness, may
need to be hospitalised for lengthy periods of time. This may prevent them from maintaining employment status and
consequently place a financial strain on their families. It is important to remember that the cost of ill health to individuals and
communities is not simply the direct financial costs. It includes the indirect financial, physical, social, emotional and mental
costs as well. The burden of an acute or chronic health condition on the social and emotional health of an individual or family is
extremely difficult to measure and fully comprehend.