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NT: Cost of inaction on heart disease too high
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NT: Cost of inaction on heart disease too high

NT Media Release - 6 August 2020

The Heart Foundation has today presented all candidates in the upcoming election with a $116 million a year bill for the cost of inaction on the health and economic impacts of tobacco and rheumatic heart disease (RHD).

Sarah George, the Heart Foundation’s Heart Health Manager for the NT, says the “bill” comprises:

  • Healthcare costs of $103 million per year for smoking, the equivalent of $419 per person in the NT

  • Healthcare costs of $13 million per year for rheumatic heart disease (RHD)

Ms George says, “If no further action is taken on RHD, 48 people in the NT will need surgery due to their illness and 24 people will die each year.

“Meanwhile, one in five Territorians who die each year are dying because they smoked.

“Smoking is not just a lung destroyer – it is also one of the most devastating things you can do to your heart. Too many Territorians inflict this lethal damage to themselves every day.”  

Ms George said the Heart Foundation was presenting a raft of measures for the incoming government to do more to stem the tide of smoking in the NT: “These include boosting long-term stop-smoking programs and mass media campaigns, banning tobacco vending machines and reducing the influence of tobacco companies by stopping their donations to political parties.

“We have the highest daily smoking rate in the country. What’s more, people in the NT are more than twice as likely to have a tobacco-related illness as Australians living elsewhere. We can’t continue down this road.”

The Territory also has nearly half the nation’s cases of RHD, a preventable and treatable illness related to social disadvantage, including overcrowded housing.

RHD is caused by repeated cases of acute rheumatic fever (ARF). Left untreated, RHD can cause heart failure, stroke and complications of pregnancy, and may be fatal.

 “RHD is a marker of inequality that cuts through the heart of Indigenous communities and compels action from the next Territory government,” Ms George said.

 “We need further commitment, funding and coordination from the next government to address the conditions and factors that contribute to RHD in the NT, and we need an approach that is led by Indigenous peoples.”

NT Interventional cardiologist Dr Edwina Wing-Lun said the Territory has the highest rate and greatest number of new RHD diagnoses among Indigenous Australians each year: “Rates here are three times that of other states and territories.

“It’s an insidious disease that strikes in childhood but stretches into adulthood, killing people prematurely and causing terrible complications. Tragically, it’s preventable,” Dr Wing-Lun said. 

The Heart Foundation is calling on the next Territory Government to demonstrate strong leadership and take action to reduce heart disease in our community. This includes: 

  • Measures to help people to quit smoking and protect young people from taking up smoking. For example, banning smoking and vaping from school grounds.

  • Investing in a Walking Strategy to get more people walking more often.

  • Banning unhealthy food and drink ads aimed at young people in outdoor spaces

  • Improving heart care for Territorians and ensuring everyone has access to rehab services after a heart event.

More information about the Heart Foundation’s policies and the Follow Your Heart campaign can be found here.

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