Liver diseases are now carried by over one-fourth of Australia’s population, costing the island nation over $50 billion every single year. That’s the mind-boggling report released Wednesday by the Gastroenterological Society of Australia (GESA). The World Bank estimated Australia’s population as roughly 22 million people as of January, and the new report commissioned by the Australian Liver Association (ALA) stated that over six million of them already have mostly preventable liver diseases.
The total is predicted to reach eight million patients by 2030.
Australia has a worldwide reputation for its fine wine-producing regions, so it might surprise you that by far the most widespread liver disease was non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which has claimed an astonishing 5.5 million patients. Viral hepatitis, including chronic hepatitis B and C, is the runner-up, infecting over half a million Australians.
In other words, liver disease isn’t just for alcoholics anymore. Drinking too much alcohol is still a risk factor, but eating a high-fat diet or engaging in activities that expose you to the viruses that cause hepatitis are also serious issues.
There are vaccines to protect high-risk patients from Hepatitis A and B, but the Hepatitis C vaccine is still under development, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A scandal erupted in the United States last year when a traveling medical technician contaminated syringes with hepatitis C and then put them back on the shelves, potentially infecting thousands of victims.
The cost of the disease is high. Each year, Australians spend over $5 billion dollars on the direct and indirect costs of treating liver diseases, with viral diseases requiring particularly expensive medical care. The indirect “burden of the disease” on society was estimated at an addition $45 billion, to reach the stunning $50 billion calculated by the GESA.
Were you stunned to learn that liver disease impacts that many Australians — and at that high a price?
[photo Sydney, Australia scene courtesy Elaine Radford]