COVID-19: Nambucca Heads most vulnerable town in regional NSW

Many would know that a large population in the Nambucca Valley is at increased risk should coronavirus take hold here.

But what might be a surprise is that Nambucca Heads is ranked as the most disadvantaged town in regional NSW in regards to its health.

And Macksville is second, according to data released last Monday by Catholic Social Services and compiled by a team at Australian National University's Centre for Social Research Methods.

In a table of 267 different areas which are largely correlated to townships, Nambucca Heads received a health index of 663.18, with 1000 being the average, and a lower number referencing disadvantage.

"663 means the town is very disadvantaged - likely in the bottom one per cent in Australia," ANU Associate Professor Ben Phillips said.

Macksville's index was 678.73, followed by Forster, Tuncurry, Tea Gardens and the Kempsey region, with indices in the 700s.

Warragamba-Silverdale to Sydney's west is the healthiest, with an index of 1115.04.

For the study, the team compiled freely available data about heart problems, diabetes, asthma, obesity and other chronic conditions, as well as factors such as smoking and disabilities.

"Nambucca Heads has high rates of those problems, largely related to it being home to a lot of older people," Assoc Prof Phillips said.

Associate Professor Ben Phillips, whose models show the communities where the coronavirus could do more damage. Photo: Canberra Times

Associate Professor Ben Phillips, whose models show the communities where the coronavirus could do more damage. Photo: Canberra Times

He said most coastal areas outside of Sydney had lower indices, which correlated to their older demographics.

He also said a higher than average Aboriginal population in Nambucca and Macksville would likely have contributed to the lower index.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' 2016 Census results, over a third of the population of the greater Nambucca Heads area (SA2) was of retirement age and older (65+).

The Indigenous population of Nambucca Heads accounted for 9.2 per cent of the total number of people.

The Macksville-Scotts Head area (SA2) had over 27 per cent of its population over 65-years-old, and 6.8 per cent of people identified as being Indigenous.

Nationally, only 15.7 per cent of the population is over the age of retirement, and 2.8 per cent is Indigenous.

So what does this mean?

It's important to note that the data does not predict where infection rates might be higher.

Nor is the index specific to coronavirus.

But it did consider the chronic health issues known to make coronavirus worse, like circulatory, heart and lung conditions.

And the health data was useful for tracking where the coronavirus would have the harshest impact.

"Based on this information you would expect Nambucca would do a lot worse, with higher rates of hospitalisation and certainly death," Assoc Prof Phillips said.

"And there's a question mark as to how health services would cope."

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