Private Members' Business: World Osteoperosis Day

I endorse the remarks of the member for Canberra and support the motion moved by the member for Hindmarsh. Osteoporosis is often called 'The Silent Thief' because bone loss occurs without symptoms. Individuals may not be diagnosed with osteoporosis until their bones are so weak that a strain, bump or fall causes a fracture.

Osteoporotic related fractures cost the Australian community an estimated $1 billion per year in direct costs. The total cost, which includes factors such as carers and lost income, is currently estimated to be $7 billion a year. 

Aside from these financial costs, fractures due to osteoporosis can lead to changes in posture, muscle weakness, loss of height, bone deformity of the spine, chronic pain, disability, loss of independence and even premature death. Currently in Australia two in three women and one in three men over the age of 60 will suffer an osteoporotic fracture in their remaining lifetime.

Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, more quickly than the body can replace them. This leads to a loss of bone thickness. 

As a result, bones become thinner and less dense so that even a minor bump or accident can cause serious fractures. Any bone can be affected by osteoporosis but the most common sites are the ribs and bones in the hip, spine, wrist, pelvis and upper arm.

According to Osteoporosis Australia, every five to six minutes someone is admitted to an Australian hospital with an osteoporotic fracture. This is expected to rise to every three to four minutes by the year 2021 as the population ages and the number of osteoporotic fractures increases. 

About 50 per cent of people with one fracture due to osteoporosis will have another. People who have had two or more osteoporotic fractures are up to nine times more likely to have another fracture and the risk is 11 times greater for people who have had three or more fractures compared to someone who has not had one.

Earlier this year Wagga Wagga Base Hospital was chosen as one of three sites across New South Wales to evaluate a new chronic care program aimed at identifying people who may be at risk of osteoporosis. 

Our hospital, the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney and the Royal Newcastle Centre were selected by the New South Wales Health's Agency for Clinical Innovation to implement and evaluate a four-month re-fracture prevention program. 

Wagga Wagga Base Hospital was chosen as a site for the trial to provide insight into the challenges in setting up and providing this service in a rural setting. If it is successful it will be implemented in other sites right across New South Wales.

The program, which began in September, aims to identify and prevent re-fractures in local residents who have already experienced a bone fracture and are living with or at risk of osteoporosis. The four-month trial is looking at a multidisciplinary approach to better identify and treat people with osteoporosis that will lead to improved outcomes for individuals and better use of health services.

Some fractures may be prevented with an early diagnosis of osteoporosis, suitable medication and treatment from an allied health team. According to Wagga Wagga Base Hospital acting physiotherapist in charge, Dr Claire Schofield, re-fractures in people living with osteoporosis are a growing burden on health services. 

This project aims to improve pathways for better care and prevention. New South Wales Health have said that the project team have been delighted with the response from the Wagga Wagga community and there has been an overwhelming response from the local Wagga GPs and medical staff across all settings. To date 88 patients have been followed up as part of the trial.

Thanks should be extended to Murrumbidgee Local Health District, Medicare Local, Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, Dr Schofield and the patients willing to participate in this wonderful trial. Because of its success, New South Wales Health's Agency for Clinical Innovation has extended funding until early April 2012 to gain valuable follow-up data from the participants.

World Osteoporosis Day is observed annually on 20 October and launches a year-long campaign dedicated to raising global awareness of the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis and metabolic bone disease. 

This year's theme was three steps to prevention: calcium, vitamin D and exercise. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for building and maintaining bone density. 

Exercise maintains and increases bone strength by escalating bone mass or by slowing age related bone loss. Muscle strength is also increased, which is important for supporting the joints and preventing falls. Calcium is more easily absorbed from dairy products than most other food groups. For Australians the main source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight.

Osteoporosis can be one disease which we as a nation can fight right now. We are fortunate enough to live in a country filled with fresh and nutritious produce and have a constant stream of sunlight. These factors combined with an array of weight-bearing exercise throughout life can significantly reduce the risk of this silent disease which affects our health and independence as we age.

Cristy Houghton