Australia - Health

Australia is one of the healthiest countries in the world. The common cold and other respiratory infections are the most prevalent forms of illness; arteriosclerosis is the most common cause of death. Water in most cities is good and safe for household purposes and garbage and trash are collected in cities and towns.

All levels of government are concerned with public health, with the municipalities functioning largely as agents for the administration of state policies. State health departments are responsible for infant welfare, school medical and dental services (provided free of charge), treatment and eradication of infectious and contagious diseases and tuberculosis, industrial hygiene programs, maintenance of food and drug standards, public and mental hospitals, and the regulation of private hospitals. The Commonwealth government makes grants for medical research, coordinates state health programs, and maintains specialist medical research institutions and laboratories.

Public sector funding accounts for over two-thirds of health care expenditure in Australia; some is allocated via the central government and some via local authorities. Since the introduction of Medicare (the national health insurance program) in 1984, the share of funding provided by the federal government has risen. Under the Medicare system, all Australians have access to free care at public hospitals. The plan also meets three-fourths of the bill for private hospital treatment, while patients pay the remainder (and can take out private health insurance to cover this, although comprehensive private medical insurance was abolished in the 1984 act). Total health care expenditure was estimated at 8.6% of GDP as of 1999.

Since 1950, certain drugs have been provided free of charge when prescribed by a medical practitioner. All patients other than pensioners must pay a set amount for every prescription supplied under the scheme; the remainder is met by the government. For those not eligible for free public health care and who have basic medical insurance, the government pays 30% of the scheduled benefit fee for each medical service. Such insurance, including the government contribution, covers 85% of scheduled fees. The federal government provides grants to the states and aboriginal organizations for the development of special health services for aboriginals. As of 1992, aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders had unacceptably low levels of health. Though, they have access to the same health care system as any other Australian, they are often reluctant to take full advantage of it. Unemployed persons, recent immigrants and refugees, and certain low-income persons are entitled to health care cards that entitle the bearer and dependents to free medical and hospital treatment.

Health services are efficient. Hospitals are generally modern and well equipped, but space often is at a premium. In 1998, there were more than 1,015 acute-care hospitals, of which 734 were public hospitals. As of 1999, there were an estimated 8.5 hospital beds per 1,000 people. Most private hospitals tend to be fairly small and there are a large number of private hospitals run by religious groups. Hospital facilities are concentrated in the states of New South Wales and Queensland, which together account for about half the country's hospitals and hospital beds.

In 1998, Australia had 48,934 employed physicians, of which 20,852 were primary care providers. As of 1999, there were an estimated 2.5 physicians per 1,000 people. In the mid-1990s, there were more than 6,000 dentists and in 1996 there were 218,172 employed nurses, or 9.5 per 1,000 people. Competent general physicians and specialists are available in most cities and the Royal Flying Doctor Service provides medical care and treatment to people living in remote areas.

In 2002, the estimated death rate was 7.25 per 1,000 people. Infant mortality in 2000 was 5 per 1,000 live births. The under-five mortality rate has steadily decreased from 24 in 1960 to 7 in 2000. Between 1980 and 1993, 67% of married women (ages 15-49) used contraception. The 1999 birth rate was 13.2 per 1,000 inhabitants, and the fertility rate in 2000 was 1.8 per woman. The maternal mortality rate was 6 per 100,000 live births in 1995. The estimated life expectancy in 2000 was 79 years. As of 1999, estimated immunization of one-year-old children was as follows: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 88%; and measles, 89%. In 1999, the incidence of tuberculosis was 6.2 per 1,000 people.

The HIV-1 prevalence in 1999 was 0.15 per 100 adults. As of 1999 the number of people living with HIV/AIDS was estimated at 14,000.

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