The 2019-2020 Australian bushfires were unprecedented in intensity, scale and duration. Their devastating impact included 33 deaths and the destruction of property, livestock, wildlife and habitat. We now know the bushfires had an even greater impact than we initially understood. Modelling suggests smoke from the 2019-2020 bushfires caused 1,305 emergency department attendances for asthma, 2,027 hospital admissions for respiratory problems, and 1,124 hospital admissions for cardiovascular problems. The same study estimated 417 excess deaths due to the smoke.
A survey of 12,000 people by Asthma Australia over December 2019 and January 2020 revealed exposure to bushfire smoke resulted in financial strain, reduced social participation and poor mental health for many respondents. These outcomes were more pronounced among respondents with asthma. While the medium- and long-term impacts of the bushfire crisis are not yet known, we can assume the health toll will continue to grow.
Our survey also showed that for people with asthma, it didn’t matter what protective actions they took, the smoke was pervasive, and they could not escape symptoms.
Asthma Australia made 10 recommendations following the analysis of the survey findings, including the development and implementation of an AirSmart public education campaign and is currently under development. Stay tuned for more information soon.