Guest post by Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
When a study comes out saying that your country has some of the lowest levels of smoking among rich countries, it’s tempting to pat yourself on the back and bask in the glory of your achievement. But for Australia, this isn’t good enough.
Australia’s health officials know that country-wide smoking statistics – estimated at 17% in 2012 according to researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (see screen grab below) – mask a smoking epidemic among a disadvantaged subset of the Australian population, Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders.
Smoking patterns by country, both sexes, 2012
A national survey conducted between 2008 and 2009 determined that nearly 48% of Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander males and females aged 18 and older smoked regularly. To put this statistic in perspective, a smoking prevalence of 48% is similar to levels seen among males in China (45%), Belarus (46%), and Ukraine (46%) in 2012. Male smoking prevalence in these countries is among the highest in the world (see screen grab) after Indonesia, Armenia, Laos, Papua New Guinea, and Russia.
Smoking patterns by country, males, 2012
A government-commissioned Australian burden of disease study published in 2007 found that a large health gap existed between indigenous Australians and the Australian population as a whole. In the following video, IHME Professor Theo Vos discusses the insights gained from this study, which he led.
“In order to help direct health policy, we quantified in great detail what contributes to the big gap – not just in life expectancy but also in quality of life – between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population and the rest of the population,” Vos said. “One of the top contributors to that big gap in health status was tobacco smoking.”
The study estimated that the burden of disease in Aboriginal Australians was nearly two and a half times larger than it was in Australians overall (see figure below produced as part of this study).
In response to the study, the Australian government, led by Professor Jane Halton, Secretary of the Department of Health, pledged AU$14.5 million in 2008 to launch the Indigenous Tobacco Control Initiative, which aims to halve smoking rates in indigenous communities by 2018. The campaign has funded projects ranging from mobilizing support for smoke-free workplaces in Indigenous communities to cessation counseling and media campaigns. Here’s a video that was launched as part of a campaign called “Break the Chain.”
The video features a young Indigenous Australian woman who cites examples of friends and loved ones who have suffered health problems or died from smoking. “I was smoking for years too… but I quit,” she explains, “Cos I don’t want our kids growing up thinking disease and dying like that is normal.”
The Australian government is currently funding another burden of disease study that will track health outcomes at the local level and in Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders compared to Australians overall. This study, scheduled to be published in 2015, and studies of smoking prevalence will allow policymakers and community leaders to assess progress made to date in eliminating the health gap between indigenous Australians and the country as a whole.
This case study is just one example of ways that people are using disease burden evidence to take action to improve health. To recognize these individuals, IHME has launched the Roux Prize. The Roux Prize is a US$100,000 reward established by David and Barbara Roux in 2013. Please consider nominating worthy individuals by March 31, 2014.
More information and application details can be found on the Roux Prize website. Share your ideas for potential nominees with IHME via Twitter (hashtag #ActOnData) and Facebook.