On Tuesday, 21st March 2023, Arthritis Australia and the Juvenile Arthritis Foundation Australia (JAFA) issued a media release warning of a looming crisis in arthritis that could hit the community and the economy hard. The media release comes at a time when the number of people living with arthritis is expected to rise, causing significant impacts on the quality of life of individuals and their families.
According to the release, arthritis is a leading cause of disability, with more than 3.6 million people, of all ages, affected in Australia alone. Arthritis, and other musculoskeletal conditions, causes chronic pain, stiffness, and inflammation in the joints, making it difficult for people to carry out their daily activities. The media release identified approximately 43% of young people (0-16 years) with arthritis have no access to specialist multidisciplinary healthcare and 80% experience pain daily (1,2).
The economic costs of arthritis are substantial, with estimates suggesting that the condition costs the Australian economy more than $23 billion each year in lost productivity and healthcare costs.
More than $1.4 billion a year is spent on knee replacements due to osteoarthritis – it is identified that $200 million of this could be avoided if those at risk had access to earlier interventions (3). Knee and hip replacements are expected to double to $5.3 billion per year by 2030 (3).
The crisis in arthritis is being driven by several factors, as highlighted by the media release:
- The ageing population means that more people are developing arthritis as they get older. As a result, the demand for healthcare services and support for people with arthritis is likely to increase in the coming years.
- There is a growing prevalence of obesity and sedentary lifestyles, which are known risk factors for developing arthritis. With obesity rates on the rise in Australia, the number of people affected by arthritis is likely to increase.
- There are just 13 clinical full-time equivalent paediatric rheumatologists in Australia to treat between 6000-10,000 young people aged 0-16 years with juvenile arthritis – that’s less than a quarter of the number required (4).
- Finally, the media release highlights the lack of awareness and understanding of arthritis among the general public, leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment. Many people with arthritis do not receive the support they need, leading to poorer health outcomes and reduced quality of life.
To address the crisis in arthritis, Arthritis Australia and JAFA calls for urgent action from the government and policymakers to seek action on three priority areas:
- An urgent increase in the Juvenile Arthritis Healthcare Workforce for paediatric rheumatologists.\
- Expanded roll-out of a national surgery catch-up package including joint replacement, and support programs for people on waiting lists.
- A commitment to major and sustained Arthritis Research.
The media release also calls for the prioritisation of the needs of people living with arthritis in health policy, to reduce the economic burden of the condition. Musculoskeletal conditions including arthritis received 60% lower funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council in 2021 when compared to cardiovascular disease or mental health (5), There is no dedicated Medical Research Future Fund for musculoskeletal conditions, whereas $220 million was put into cardiovascular disease and a further $125 million in mental health – which carry similar burdens (6).
In conclusion, the media release from Arthritis Australia and JAFA highlights the urgent need for action to address the growing crisis in arthritis. With millions of people affected by this debilitating condition, it is essential that we work together to improve awareness, increase support, and invest in research and treatment options that will improve the lives of those living with arthritis. It is time for the government and policymakers to prioritize the needs of people with arthritis to ensure a better quality of life for all.
1. Cox A, Piper S, and Singh-Grewal D. Pediatric rheumatology consultant workforce in Australia and New Zealand: the current state of play and challenges for the future. Int J Rheumatic Diseases 2017; 20: 647–65
2. Model of Care for the NSW Paediatric Rheumatology Network, Agency for Clinical Effectiveness, 2013. Accessed March 2023
3. Counting the Cost: Current and Future Burden of Arthritis, Arthritis Australia, May 2016. Accessed March 2023
4. Rheumatology Workforce Report’, Australian Rheumatology Association, February 2023. Accessed March 2023
5. National Health and Medical Research Council research funding statistics 2013-2021. Accessed March 2023
6. National Health and Medical Research Council expenditure 2021. Accessed March 2023
Arthritis Australia and Juvenile Arthritis Foundation Australia