The true cost of Australia's rural health issues

Rural and regional Australians face particular challenges due to geographic isolation. Unfortunately, health is a major one.

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Compared to our major cities, those living in rural and regional Australia experience on average:

"Life expectancy is 2.5 years lower for males and 1.3 years lower for females for outer regional, remote and very remote areas."
Andrew Giles, CEO of the Garvan Research Foundation

  • Higher mortality rates and lower life expectancy;
  • higher reported rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity;
  • higher death rates from chronic disease and suicide;
  • higher prevalence of mental health problems including dementia;
  • higher rates of alcohol abuse and smoking.

How best to address this concerning and inequitable situation is an ongoing question. Sadly, answers are few and far between.

At the Garvan Institute of Medical Research we have just completed a major reportexamining the main health issues facing rural and regional communities, as well as who is impacted.

We analysed why the challenges exist and considered how we might begin rectifying some of these major health issues.

The report, 'Genomics and Rural Health – Garvan Report 2015', which we launched at the Australian Grains Industry Conference in Melbourne, brings together for the first time the most pertinent evidence-based data to better understand the health issues facing rural and regional populations across Australia.

The report has been applauded by health professionals. The Rural Doctors Association of Australia President, Professor Dennis Pashen said the report makes for very sobering reading.

Life expectancy is 2.5 years lower for males and 1.3 years lower for females for outer regional, remote and very remote areas compared with the major cities and inner regional areas.

The study is in line with the National Health Priority Areas of asthma, arthritis, cancer control, cardiovascular health, diabetes, mental health, obesity and dementia.

We wanted to focus on the 'big picture' around these issues. The facts and figures contained in the report ensure the key information is readily available to all stakeholders.

After all, the foundation of all good policy is a solid information base and a good understanding of the realities facing any sector of the population.


Critical to any solution is medical research and there is a particular focus on the role genomics can play in the development of personalised medicine.

In 2015 Garvan was one of the first in the world to acquire machines that can sequence a whole human genome in less than 48 hours at a base cost of less than $US1000.

Compare this to just over a decade ago when the same technology cost over a billion dollars to sequence the first human genome, and took several years to complete.

This technology has the potential to accelerate medical research and provide personalised data that allows for early prevention, more targeted treatments and significantly lower health costs to people living in rural areas.

There are some diseases – rare and inherited childhood diseases for example – where genomic information can be used to diagnose and better treat the disease.

Genomic technology will provide several key benefits including the ability to more accurately diagnose and there allow for better treatment choices; better risk prediction for complex disease; and more targeted treatments with less trial and error and fewer side effects.

In upcoming BlueNotes pieces we will look more closely at the rural health issues highlighted in the Garvan report, and the role genomics might play in addressing these.

ANZ is a proud supporter of the Garvan Research Foundation and its work in raising awareness of rural health issues and the role medical research can play to address these.

Andrew Giles is CEO of the Garvan Research Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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