Australians ‘in the dark’ with arthritis: one of our most prevalent and costly diseases


Despite arthritis being one of our most prevalent and expensive diseases, impacting over 3.6 million Australians (or 1 in 7) and costing $14 billion per year*,1,2 a new report has identified major gaps in research, and confirmed the condition has one of the lowest levels of research funding of all chronic health conditions – keeping Australia dangerously ‘in the dark’ on this health priority.
The Arthritis Australia Impactful Arthritis Research report, developed in collaboration with Research Australia and guided by the arthritis community, calls for an urgent focus on arthritis research.3 Arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions account for 13% of the country’s total disease burden, on par with cardiovascular disease (13%), mental health (13%) and cancer (18%). But just 1% of the Medical Research Future Fund has been on arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, while cardiovascular disease received 9% and cancer 16%.4
Arthritis is a leading cause of disability in Australia, affecting people of all ages with the number diagnosed with arthritis set to rise to 5.4 million by 2030.5 Yet it remains poorly understood by the community, often trivialised and firmly focussed on the bones and joints, ignoring the significant broader health and life impacts on those living with the condition. The costs are extraordinary with over $2.3 billion a year spent currently on hip and knee replacements for osteoarthritis.6 This is anticipated to more than double to $5.3 billion per year by 2030.7
The report outlines urgent research priorities with an emphasis on improved care, research across the multiple types of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, and the needs of communities and priority populations – including children, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, those living in rural and remote areas, and people with disabilities.
Arthritis Australia Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Smithers says, “Arthritis is set to become our next health crisis, impacting not only those with the condition, but their families, friends and the community. For every person living with arthritis or a musculoskeletal condition, the government spent less than $6 on research through the NHMRC in 2021, compared to $147 per person living with dementia, and $85 per person with a cardiovascular condition. This report confirms we urgently need to improve our focus and care– by bringing research investment up to the level of other diseases like heart disease and cancer, and listening to the voices of people living with arthritis.”
“Arthritis remains widely misunderstood and is a much bigger issue than most of us realise. It’s essentially a ‘whole’ body issue, affecting much more than joints, as inflammation caused by arthritis can lead to damage in many parts of the body – the skin, eyes, lungs, and heart,” adds Arthritis Australia’s medical director Professor Susanna Proudman. “We need a Medical Research Future Fund Mission for arthritis research to not only uncover more effective treatments and ways to improve care, but also unlock major health system savings that will benefit the wider community.”
The significant impact of arthritis on all elements of Australians life needs prioritisation – notably in areas of emerging interest and research, including:
  • Productivity: In working-age Australians (15-64 years), knee osteoarthritis results in significant productivity loss, amounting to A$424 billion in lost GDP in 2019.8 For younger generations, 2 in 5 children (39%) with arthritis experience difficulties learning at school.9
  • Mental health and cognitive impacts: 1 in 6 (17%) with arthritis experienced ‘brain fog’, including memory or cognitive issues.10
  • Fertility: Partners of men with inflammatory arthritis experienced a higher rate of miscarriage than those
Arthritis Australia Chair, Kaylene Hubbard (48), was diagnosed with osteoarthritis two years ago and had two hip replacements as a result. She says, “We need to take the huge burden of pain, disability and lost productivity from arthritis more seriously. It can impact every area of your life, from work or school, to finances and family. There is so much we still don’t know about how to best support the millions of Australians who live with arthritis.”
More about the report: The report sets out a consumer driven agenda for research priorities – including:
  • Better Care – coordinated and bundled care with a focus on allied health – over half of survey respondents supported research into better managing their care
  • Fundamental research – consumer-driven research to better understand the causes of arthritis, symptoms and prevention
  • Priority population insights – including children with arthritis, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, those living in rural and remote areas, and people with disabilities
  • Cross Cutting Research applicable across multiple types of arthritis or musculoskeletal conditions, including rare or neglected conditions – there are over 100 types of arthritis
  • Investing in consumer engagement in setting research priorities, developing research strategies and interpreting and disseminating the results.
The report was developed in collaboration with Research Australia, the national peak body for Australian health and medical research. Research Australia CEO, Nadia Levin said, “Australia is home to world leading arthritis experts. In this report, we have identified a clear role for Arthritis Australia to bring these researchers together with consumers who have the lived experience to inform successful arthritis research.”
*as a disease group including musculoskeletal conditions

1. Arthritis Australia, The 1 in 7 Australians living with arthritis need more support – Arthritis Australia launches its election platform. Available from: (Accessed November 2022)
2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2021. Disease expenditure in Australia 2018-19. Cat. no. HWE 81. Canberra: AIHW.
3. Arthritis Australia and Research Australia. Impactful Arthritis Research. (2022).
4. Gilbert S, Buchbinder R, Harris IA, Maher CM. A comparison of the distribution of Medical Research Future Fund grants with disease burden in Australia. Med J Aust 2021;214(3):111-3
5. Arthritis New South Wales. Arthritis Statistics. Available from: (Accessed November 2022)
6. The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care. Prioritised list of clinical domains for clinical quality registry development: Final report. Sydney: ACSQHC; 2016
7. Ackerman, IN, Bohensky, MA, Zomer, E, et al, 2019. The projected burden of primary total knee and hip replacement for osteoarthritis in Australia to the year 2030. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2019 20:90
8. Jin et al. Loss of Productivity-Adjusted Life Years in Working-age Australians Due To Knee Osteoarthritis: A Life-table Modelling Approach. Arthritis Care & Research, (2022)
9. Tollisen et al. Personally Generated Quality of Life Outcomes in Adults With Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. Journal of Rheumatology, (2022)
10. Hogras et al. Cross-sectional relationship between pain intensity and subjective cognitive decline among middle-aged and older adults with arthritis or joint conditions: Results from a population-based study. Sage Open Med. (2022).
11. Perez-Garcia et al. Impaired fertility in men diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis: results of a large multicentre study (iFAME-Fertility). Epidemiological Science, (2021)