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The burden of disease and injury in Indigenous Australians

The Indigenous Burden of Disease Study is a component of the Australian Burden of Disease Study, which described the health status of Australians in the year 2003. The Indigenous study specifically looked at improving knowledge of the true level of mortality, causes of death, non-fatal health states and risk factors affecting Indigenous people. A previously completed pilot burden of disease study in the Northern Territory estimated that health inequalities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians not only affect the length of life (three times more years of life lost due to premature deaths among Indigenous people) but also the health-related quality of life (almost a doubling of disability experienced due to non-fatal disease).

The primary objectives of the Burden of Disease and Injury in Indigenous Australians project were to deliver:

  1. Burden of disease estimates (deaths, years of life lost, years lived with disability, disability-adjusted life years, incidence and prevalence with details by age, sex and remote/non-remote residence) that will assist health service planners and Indigenous communities to identify those specific diseases and risk factors that are most responsible for the gap in health status between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
  2. A platform for further analytical work on the relative cost-effectiveness of alternative intervention options in support of priority setting.

The project analysed both mortality data and available survey and epidemiological data and routine health statistics to achieve its aims. For the mortality analyses, use was made of indirect demographic techniques for checking completeness and reliability of death registration relative to population estimates derived from census counts. For the analyses of the incidence/prevalence, average duration, remission and mortality of the 176 diseases included in the Australian Burden of Disease study, the project used a standard burden of disease software program called DISMOD to check all disease estimates for consistency. Where available, directly observed data determined the non-fatal disease estimates. However, for many diseases with no directly observed data, estimates were derived from relative risks between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians of mortality, hospital episodes or reported disease occurrence in surveys. The project also estimated the burden attributable to major risk factors (including tobacco, alcohol, blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, unsafe sex, illicit drugs, physical inactivity, inadequate diet, intimate partner violence) using the improved methods developed for the 2002 World Health Report.

Related resources:
Project leader

Associate Professor Theo Vos

Administering institution:

The University of Queensland