NAIDOC Week Focus on Healthcare

15 July 2018

NAIDOC Week 2018 will be held nationally from Sunday 8th July and continue through to Sunday 15th July. This year it spotlights the invaluable contributions Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women make to our communities and families. It is also a perfect time to reflect on aboriginal health and the gap that still exists for Indigenous Australians

Mind The Gap!

While the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is gradually improving, the target to close the gap in life expectancy by 2031 is not on track.

The most recent Indigenous life expectancy estimates were published in 2013 and showed Indigenous males born between 2010 and 2012 have a life expectancy of 69.1 years - 10.6 years less than non-Indigenous males. Females fared marginally better with an estimated life expectancy of 73.7 years - 9.5 years less than non-Indigenous females. 

Source: ABS, 2013, Life tables for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2010–2012. ABS Cat. No. 3302.0.55.003.

Mortality rates also have not improved in the last 10 years for the Indigenous population (non-Indigenous Australians show a small decline). The most common causes of death among Indigenous Australians were:

  • cardiovascular disease (25% of deaths)
  • cancer (20%), with lung cancer being the most common cause of such deaths (4.9% of all deaths)
  • external causes of injury and poisoning (15%)
  • endocrine, metabolic and nutritional disorders (including diabetes) (9.1%)
  • respiratory diseases (7.6%)
  • digestive diseases (5.6%).

* Indigenous mortality data for New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory only and is age standardised.

** The non-Indigenous trajectory is based on the non-Indigenous trend between 1998 and 2012, from which the Indigenous trajectory was derived. 

Sources: ABS and AIHW analysis of National Mortality Database

Reduced smoking rates which is a major risk factor for chronic disease has made minor improvements however this is still well above the average for non-Indigenous Australians at 14.6%. Smoking has a huge impact on health, increasing cardiovascular disease, increasing lung cancer, reducing immune systems and causing delayed wound healing. 

Although 34.8% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples live in major cities, 21.4% live in remote or very remote areas. These areas have the greatest disparity in health care with multiple issues with limited healthcare services, trained staff, remote access to clinics and many other problems.

Solutions on the horizon

The Australian Government has committed to Closing the Gap through government initiatives, improved conversations and holistic approaches to Indigenous healthcare. Some recent programs involve:

  • Improved primary health care clinics have been funded throughout remote areas of Australia. Access to health services is fundamental to the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Indigenous representation in Healthcare settings and the acknowledgement of Aboriginal healers have been promoted in Public Health environments. This is in response to the evidence that true and lasting gains are made when families are at the fore front of decision making.
  • Increased focus on socioeconomic outcomes which in turn will enhance the health of the First Nations People. 
  • Better food programs and food security to boost nutrition levels in remote communities to better health.
  • Cheaper medications through the PBS for chronic diseases.

Allied Health and Hand Therapy

Providing services in remote locations is a huge barrier for consistent allied health services. The government has not been 100% supportive to fund full services and to recruit healthcare personnel to these areas is difficult. There is a significant lack of mentors, access to training, isolation, safety of staff and other issues. There are some shining lights with IAHA having established itself with support and funding, the increase in Aborigines living in less remote areas and the use of technology with video conferencing clinics. Hand Therapy in these areas is almost non-existent. Indigenous Australians in remote locations suffer from injuries to their hands through accidents, age related degeneration, self harm and neurological causes. Most of these patients either go untreated by a Hand Therapist or will wait to access services in cities with delayed treatment reducing positive outcomes. This NAIDOC week we were very lucky to be able to support a worthy cause with a visit to the Anangu people and a donation to Mutitjulu Foundation which supports elderly Aboriginal peoples in need of respite care

← Back to news