Arthritis Australia releases 2040 disease projections

4 minute read

Addressing underinvestment in arthritis research is key to reducing the impact of Australia’s ‘growing arthritis epidemic’.

Arthritis Australia has released new forecast projections for arthritis over the next 15 years.

Researchers at Monash University’s School of Public Health & Preventive Medicine estimate 5.3 million Australians are predicted to be living with the pain and disability of arthritis by 2040.

This represents an increase of 31% from today’s figures, driven largely by population growth and ageing.

While most of this will be osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis cases are expected to jump 33% by 2040, or an average 12,400 cases per year.

The report also points out that Millennials and women are likely to bear the brunt of the increase, with OA projected to be nearly 80% higher among woman than men, and females also far more likely to experience RA and juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

 “The forecast rising tide of arthritis cases, especially among Millennials and women, compels us to rethink our approach to arthritis prevention and management for the generations who stand on the precipice of this escalating health challenge,” said Arthritis Australia CEO Jonathan Smithers.

Current annual direct healthcare expenditure on OA and RA care exceeds $5.26 billion, of which over $3.5 billion is for osteoarthritis, mainly hip and knee replacements.

Professor Ilana Ackerman of Monash University, who authored the new report, said “Australians with osteoarthritis currently face major gaps in access to care according to clinical guidelines, which if properly implemented could improve health outcomes while reducing the need for expensive joint replacements.”

Without intervention, says Arthritis Australia, the figure for arthritis is projected to escalate, potentially surpassing $7.7 billion by 2040 based on the new projections. Then there the wider economic costs and losses, such as arthritis-induced early retirements, which amount to further billions.

“As we look towards 2040, it’s clear the economic and workforce implications of the growing arthritis epidemic could be profound and hit some Australians particularly hard,” Mr Smithers said.

“Research will be vital in improving prevention and cost-effective treatments. We must support Australia’s world leading researchers to make much needed breakthroughs, and ensure we don’t lose the next generation of researchers through underfunding.”

Arthritis Australia has called for increased funding to improve affordability of allied health and multidisciplinary care, as well as investment in arthritis and musculoskeletal research via the Medical Research Future Fund.

In addition to increased funding, Arthritis Australia also proposes challenging the perception of arthritis as an older person’s condition by raising awareness of its prevalence and impact among younger adults and children, promoting early intervention and support; and addressing the barriers arthritis symptoms pose to daily activities and participation in work and social life, promoting inclusive policies in workplaces, educational settings and social environments.

Meanwhile, in its 2024 budget submission, Arthritis Australia highlights the fact that while arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions constitute the highest cost disease group and one of the four main burden of disease groups, it lags far behind other leading burden of disease groups in terms of research funding.

For example, in 2020-21, cancer research attracted almost $300 million in combined NHMRC funding and MRFF missions, cardiovascular disease over $330 million and mental health $225 million. Arthritis and musculoskeletal diseases attracted under $45 million.

The submission proposes a number of funding measures, in addition to $150 million in research funding, that can help alleviate health system and out-of-pocket costs and disability due to arthritis.

These include equitable access to arthritis information and support including for priority populations; affordable access to allied health and support for behaviour and lifestyle change; upskilling health professionals in best practice arthritis management; and national leadership to improve outcomes for children with arthritis (which includes training of paediatric rheumatologists).

“Arthritis Australia also strongly supports the budget proposals of the Australian Rheumatology Association to address the rheumatology workforce crisis, including for the Commonwealth to increase funding of rheumatology training positions in private, rural and remote settings through the Specialist Training Program, and to expand the ‘Other Medical Practitioner’ program to rheumatology registrars,” the report notes.

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