03 August 2021

I'm speaking from my electorate on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and I pay my deepest respects. I want to bring to this House's attention the seriousness of the issue of allergies and anaphylaxis. Anyone who has seen a child have a sudden and severe allergic reaction to food will know the horror and fear it can bring. My son would flare up if I simply kissed him after I had eaten peanut butter, so severe was his allergy. My brother nearly died from an asthma attack after visiting a house that had been freshly painted, with paint fumes thick in the air. I myself suffer with giant urticaria—better known as hives, but 'giant urticaria' sounds more dramatic. It's not as severe, but, if I do have an attack, I feel very unwell. I find it painful and it looks horrendous, being covered in large red welts. It certainly keeps me from work and unproductive, like so many who, as a result of allergies, require health care, medications and time away from work and life's activities. More and more, we're beginning to understand complex allergic disease. Sometimes multiple allergies are experienced at once. For example, a child with a peanut allergy will often also have eczema, allergic rhinitis or hay fever, and asthma. Poorly controlled asthma in a patient with food allergy is a risk factor for life-threatening and fatal allergic reactions.

 

There has been significant increase in the complexity and severity of a range of allergic diseases over the last couple of decades. Allergic diseases are amongst the fastest-growing chronic diseases and public health issues in Australia. They currently affect more than four million Australians. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy together with Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia led a team of experts and those who live with the experience in developing a national allergy strategy. They describe an alarming state of affairs with what is an urgent and serious chronic disease problem for Australia. They have reported that, over the last two decades, almost 20 per cent of the Australian population have a confirmed allergic disease, and this prevalence is increasing. Hospital admissions for anaphylaxis have increased fivefold. Recent studies show that 10 per cent of infants have an immediate food allergy and five per cent of adults may be allergic to one or more drugs. Drug allergy induced anaphylaxis deaths have increased by an alarming 300 per cent, and drug allergy induced anaphylaxis presentations have trebled.

 

There are often misunderstandings about allergy and a temptation to label any medically unexplained illnesses as being due to an allergy, indicating a lack of education about the condition. Up to 15 per cent of people believe they have a drug allergy but don't and, therefore, are denied treatment with an indicated drug. This lack of public awareness about the impact and appropriate management of medically confirmed allergic diseases can result in the use of potentially unsafe alternative tests and therapies. Patients are often referred to a succession of different medical specialists, resulting in confusion and poor treatment. It's been reported that chronic allergies like eczema or atopic dermatitis can result in depression and even suicide amongst sufferers. GPs, pharmacists, dietitians, allied health professionals, nurses and specialists are all important in the need to tackle this problem and they, along with consumers, are calling for a nationally coordinated approach. The rapid and continuing increase in the prevalence and impact of allergic diseases on the health system and the quality of life of patients and carers and the economic costs demand this.

 

I thank Dr Preeti Joshi and Ms Maria Said, co-chairs of the National Allergy Strategy, and their colleagues Associate Professor Kirsten Perrett and Dr Jennifer Koplin from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, and Jill Smith and Sandra Vale from the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy for meeting with me a couple of times now to discuss the need for a national approach. I also thank the many people in my community who contact me—families and individuals who suffer terribly with chronic allergies, many of whom are constantly in fear of anaphylaxis.

 

In 2019, the federal parliament held an inquiry into this issue, and, in 2020, the health minister accepted all the recommendations from the inquiry. In particular, his government announced support for establishing a national centre for allergies and anaphylaxis, clinical research into food allergy treatments and establishing a national register of anaphylactic episodes. I urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to start the implementation of a national allergy strategy for Australia.