Australia is currently grappling with a concerning rise in excess deaths, particularly in South Australia. Official data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) highlights that mortality rates are increasing across the country, with regional towns and rural areas experiencing the highest rates. While COVID-19 has undoubtedly played a role in this surge, the issue is more complex, involving factors such as an aging population and unhealthy lifestyles. This report will delve into the data and explore the various factors behind this alarming increase in deaths.
According to the ABS data, several regions in Australia have recorded the highest mortality rates in the past decade. These areas include Derby-West Kimberley in Western Australia, Coonamble in New South Wales, Katherine in the Northern Territory, Port Hedland in Western Australia, and Mount Isa in Queensland. Deaths in these regions have more than doubled in the past decade, surpassing population growth by a wide margin.
Across Australia, deaths have risen by 29.8 percent, while the population has only grown by 14.4 percent during the same period. This disparity is even more pronounced in individual states. For instance, New South Wales witnessed a 27.7 percent increase in deaths compared to an 11.9 percent population growth. Western Australia experienced a 29.7 percent rise in deaths versus a 14.8 percent population increase. Similar trends were observed in Victoria and Queensland. Tasmania had the smallest gap, with a 15.3 percent increase in deaths compared to an 11.8 percent population rise, followed by South Australia with a 17.3 percent increase in deaths and a 9.6 percent population growth.
While COVID-19 has undoubtedly contributed to the excess deaths in Australia, experts emphasize that it is not the sole factor driving this trend. ABS officials state that COVID-19 was the third-highest cause of death in 2022, marking the first time in over 50 years that an infectious disease has been among the top five causes of death.
Several root causes contribute to the surge in excess deaths. Firstly, the aging population, particularly the Baby Boomer generation, is reaching the end of life, leading to an increase in age-related illnesses and mortality rates. Secondly, a lack of regular health check-ups and early disease detection has allowed various health conditions to go undiagnosed and untreated, contributing to a higher mortality rate. Unhealthy lifestyles, including poor diet, lack of exercise, and high levels of smoking, have fueled obesity and various cardiovascular health issues, which can lead to premature death. Additionally, high levels of smoking in the past have contributed to an increase in lung cancer cases. The indirect consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as delayed medical treatments, have also played a role in the rise in excess deaths.
South Australia, in particular, has witnessed a significant increase in mortality rates. Regional areas and country towns have been hardest hit, with areas like Ceduna, Port Pirie, and Port Augusta recording some of the highest mortality rates in the past decade. Shockingly, 14 regional areas in South Australia ranked among the top 20 locations with the highest mortality rates. The leading causes of death in South Australia have shifted, with more people succumbing to heart disease, dementia, diabetes, cancer, and alcohol-induced illnesses.
Australia’s experience with excess deaths is a complex issue that extends beyond the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the virus has undoubtedly played a significant role, other factors such as an aging population, unhealthy lifestyles, lack of disease checks, and more have contributed to this troubling increase in mortality rates. Understanding these underlying causes is crucial for developing strategies to address and mitigate the excess deaths crisis. Public health initiatives, disease prevention, and improved healthcare access will all be essential in managing this alarming trend and ensuring the well-being of the Australian population.