PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS: Haemochromatosis
Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (20:34): Haemochromatosis is the most common genetic disorder in Australia. One in 200 people carry the gene but only one in three of these carriers will actually develop the condition. It is a privilege to follow on from the member for Shortland, who I know has a passionate interest in this particular area, and I commend her for putting this motion to the House.
Even though statistics report that more than 100,000 Australians have the genetic predisposition for haemochromatosis, it is a silent disease, and not many have been educated about the issues it can cause if it remains undetected.
We heard the member for Shortland say that early diagnosis leads to a much better life for those people with this disposition.
From 13 to 19 August, public information sessions and events were held across Australia to raise awareness of this very common but not well-known genetic condition. The week's aim was to highlight the need for early detection and treatment so that those born with the genetic condition can lead normal, healthy lives. Not-for-profit organisations such as Haemochromatosis Australia are dedicated to highlighting the genetic disorder and making it well known throughout local communities. At present there are not many other awareness groups out there pushing for people to get themselves checked or promoting a routine blood test which could lead to an early diagnosis. Early treatment prevents complications and results in normal health and life expectancy.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of haemochromatosis can mask themselves as other complications in the body. Many people, particularly men, ignore the warning signs and just keep pursuing their everyday activities when a simple blood test could solve their problems. Haemochromatosis affects both men and women and is more likely to occur after the age of 40. However, there have been cases of the genetic disorder in younger people. People with haemochromatosis absorb too much iron in their diet and, if undetected and untreated, the excess iron can cause organ or tissue damage that can potentially result in premature death. According to Haemochromatosis Australia, the body typically stores around one gram or less of iron. However, a person with haemochromatosis absorbs a great deal more iron from their food than is necessary. Iron stores of five grams or more then build up inside the body. Organs such as the liver, heart and pancreas are affected and ultimately damaged. Without treatment, haemochromatosis can cause premature death.
Many issues arise when a condition such as haemochromatosis goes untreated. Because of the gradual build-up of iron in organs and joints the liver can become enlarged, leading to other serious diseases such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. However, it is not only the liver that can be destroyed by an overload of iron. Excess iron levels stored up over many years can also cause heart disease, diabetes, issues in the endocrine system, sexual dysfunction or arthritis. Iron overload might actually show no symptoms in the earlier stages, even though organ damage is occurring. A simple routine check-up with your general practitioner can lead to early detection, which is exactly what Haemochromatosis Awareness Week is all about—not finding a cure but promoting awareness of the condition in the community.
My late father-in-law, Bernard Shaw, who died in 2000 aged 61, was affected by this disorder. The electorate of the Riverina fortunately does not have a huge pocket of this genetic condition, but the knowledge still needs to be out there. I commend the member for Shortland for putting this to the House. Hopefully people who might be listening could go and have a check-up with their local GP and perhaps nip this in the bud.