Editorial: A rural take on chronic disease

  • Woman holding hands to face

Chronic disease can be one of those health condition descriptors that is both accommodating of a range of individual conditions as well as a condition in itself. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare defines chronic diseases as “long lasting conditions with persistent effects… which commonly include arthritis, asthma, back pain, cancer, cardio-vascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes and mental health conditions”.

But chronic conditions can include a far broader set of conditions – conditions which can develop from complex and multiple causes, have a long term impact and result in limitations on a person’s lifestyle, independence and enjoyment of life. Health conditions such as hearing and vision deterioration and loss, pain arising from a variety of causes, recurring injuries, conditions that present following intensive treatment – all of these contribute to the definition of chronic diseases and a person’s chronic condition.
This is, I think, a unique aspect of chronic disease. It can comprise a single condition (such as COPD) as much as it can a range of separate and even unrelated conditions. Further, where more than one condition exists, it is clear that the impacts on health and wellbeing are far greater than merely the sum of the impacts of the individual conditions combined. There is a compounding factor at work.
In this edition we have seven articles addressing this important topic. Contributions include: Country South Australia Primary Health Network’s collaborative project with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and GP practices on improving the effectiveness of chronic pain management; the development by Pain Australia of a national action plan for chronic pain management; Dairy Australia’s partnership with Griffith University (Professor Belinda Beck) to raise awareness of bone health and nutrition; the Wellness Framework project aiming to improve wellbeing for people with chronic conditions in rural and regional Tasmania; the increase in presentations of people with mould and biotoxin-related conditions, leading to a recent Parliamentary inquiry (Australian Integrative Medicine Association); a piece on diabetes educator Ingrid Hagne and her work in educating people to make lifestyle changes to prevent the development of chronic conditions; and finally, Beryl Spencer’s powerful personal story highlighting the compounding effects of what can happen from an initial diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
I would be remiss not to highlight one of the most preventable, debilitating and sometimes fatal conditions impacting mostly young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children – rheumatic heart disease. We certainly need more programs like that operating at Maningrida with support from The Snow Foundation.


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