Aggregating and Integrating Data on Health Outcomes Associated with Bushfires at a National Scale

Quantifying the health impacts of bushfires
A person wearing a heavy-duty mask with a bushfire looming
Who will benefit
Researchers studying the immediate and longer-term effects of bushfires on human health

The Challenge

The 2019–20 Black Summer bushfires in Australia demonstrated the importance of developing relevant data assets to inform effective prevention, adaptation and disaster response strategies relevant to human health and to mitigate the costs to human life. There are challenges in producing these assets for data custodians, who wish to ensure that data governance, privacy, and confidentiality processes are appropriately followed. Additionally, issues around access also exist for researchers and policy makers, who require timely access to spatially relevant data.

The Approach

This project:

  • identified bushfire-related health service use of interest to policy makers and the research community. 
  • identified data sources available and the level of temporal and spatial availability appropriate for reporting the identified health service use, and investigated the feasibility of alternative techniques that are appropriate to meet potential user needs (e.g. data modelling for smaller geographic areas).
  • produced the identified data asset within current privacy, confidentiality, and data governance frameworks, and made it available to researchers.

The Outcomes

This project has developed an accessible data asset of bushfire-related health service use, which covers an extended time period and is disaggregated by small geographic area. This will facilitate research into the immediate and longer-term effects of bushfire on human health. While this project has focused on the impact of bushfires on health service use, it is envisaged that the data asset will have wider applications and could act as a proof-of-concept for designing future data assets across other aspects of environmental health.

Access the data through the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) web report Geography and Time-Specific Health Data for Environmental Analysis.

Who Will Benefit

Health impact assessment researchers

Access to data on health outcomes at low spatial and temporal levels enables better quality health impact assessments after exposure or events such as bushfires.

National Recovery and Resilience Agency (NRRA)

NRRA can better support communities and deliver targeted interventions to reduce the impacts of future shocks by having access to data at low spatial and temporal levels, which provides patterns on aspects of health that are most affected.

Australian Environmental Health (AusEnHealth) and other environmental decision support platforms

Access to data on health outcomes at low spatial and temporal resolution leads to better tools to support adaptation planning, vulnerability assessment and decision making.

Environmental economic accountants

By having access to data on health outcomes through a unified dataset, they can estimate human health benefits that can be attributed to ecosystems and develop a National Ecosystems Account for Australia.

Australian Climate Service (ACS)

By having access to data on health outcomes at a finer spatial/temporal resolution, ACS can help Australians understand the threats posed by a changing climate and natural hazards and provide improved support to Australians.

The Partners

  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)
  • Frontier SI (Australian Environmental Health)
  • Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
  • Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research (CAR)

Further Resources

  • View the recording and slides (DC009) of a presentation on the project by Vanessa Prescott, AIHW at the November 2023 Bushfire Data Challenges Forum.

Contact the ARDC

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