Mapping the Future of Public Health in Australia

Author: Admin   Date Posted:30 November 2016 

An analysis published in The Lancet has given some encouragement to Australian public health officials, but has also identified a number of potential areas for improvement.

An analysis published in The Lancet[1] has given some encouragement to Australian public health officials, but has also identified a number of potential areas for improvement. The analysis measured the performance of 188 countries from 1990 to 2015 against 33 health-related indicators laid out in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals including deaths relating to war, road injuries, infant mortality, illness relating to obesity and overweightness, rates of suicide, disaster deaths and others. Each country was then allocated an index out of 100 derived from their performance against individual metrics.

Globally, Australia took 10th position with an index of 81, just four points behind first-placed Iceland, with perfect scores in critical areas such as access to water, sanitisation, malaria, wasting syndrome. Physicians and health educators should see this as international recognition of their success, but should take note of where the country’s overall health metrics have dipped.

Identifying problem areas

Where Australia has fallen short of the mark will be of no surprise to physicians, educators and even well-informed laypeople. The Australian public scored relatively poorly in areas relating to violence, rates of suicide, harmful alcohol use and deaths relating to disaster (‘exposure to forces of nature’), amongst others.[2]

This bears out in numbers from recent studies. The rate of alcohol use disorders in Australia hovers around the 6-7% mark, the 2004 Global Burden of Disease Study pegging the rate at 6.17% of the population over 15 years of age.[3] Age-standardised rates of suicide in Australia in 2015 stood at 12.6 per 100,000[4]. Both of these are areas that require specialised attention and dedicated efforts from state and federal health authorities.

Bettering the health of all Australians

Addressing the shortcomings identified by the analysis will necessitate cooperation between public and private healthcare providers, educators, NGOs, local, state and federal governments, and other government bodies such as the police. Targeted efforts led or supported by government such as the Department of Health’s National Alcohol Strategy 2016-2021 and National Suicide Prevention Strategy are positive steps that both highlight the severity of the issue and foster inter-governmental and public-private cooperation on the issue.

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[1] Lim, S. S., Allen, K., Bhutta, Z. A., Dandona, L., Forouzanfar, M. H., Fullman, N., ... & Kinfu, Y. (2016). Measuring the health-related Sustainable Development Goals in 188 countries: a baseline analysis from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. The Lancet, 388(10053), 1813-1850.

[2] ibid., Figure 1

[3] (2004). Prevalence of alcohol use disorders - Data by country. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Nov. 2016].

[4] Causes of Death, Australia, 2015, cat. no. 3303.0. [online] Available at [Accessed 29 Nov. 2016].

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