Australia ranked bottom of wealthy nations on Indigenous health

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 30 Mar 2007

Australia is ranked bottom of a league table of wealthy nations working to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal peoples, according to a new report published today (April 2) by National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and Oxfam Australia.
‘The Gap Must Be Closed: Solutions to the Indigenous Health Crisis facing Australia,’ presents new research that found New Zealand, Canada and the USA had narrowed the life expectancy gap between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people to approximately seven years. This is in stark contrast to Australia where Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders die nearly 20-years younger than most other Australians.
Across a range of key health indicators the report shows that Australia lags behind other wealthy nations working to redress the imbalance in Indigenous health. Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander infant mortality rates are more than 50 per cent higher than for Indigenous children in the USA and the New Zealand. Low birth weights are more than double the incidence of those in Indigenous populations in Canada and the USA as well as 60 per cent higher than the frequency in New Zealand’s Indigenous population.
Executive Director of Oxfam Australia, Andrew Hewett said these health indicators are not only a national scandal they are an international scandal when compared to recent health advances in Indigenous populations in other first-world countries.
‘At what point do we stand up and start shouting? It’s scandalous that in a country as wealthy as Australia we cannot solve a health crisis affecting less than three-per cent of the population.’
Chief Executive Officer of NACCHO, Dea Thiele said that health status comparisons with other Indigenous peoples highlighted how poor Aboriginal peoples health was on an international scale. ‘According to the United Nations Human Development Report from 2003, the proportion of Aboriginal Australians expected to live to age 65 is lower than less developed nations like Bangladesh and Nigeria.’
However the report offers hope that the crisis in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health can be overcome when Governments demonstrate leadership and make solving the health crisis a national priority. The report identifies where spending for health has been below that required to generate health gains. It also identifies the areas needing investment by Federal, State and Territory Governments such as primary and preventative healthcare, the health workforce and health infrastructure, as well as adequate housing and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.
Ms Thiele said there are success stories in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander health Australia-wide but they are little known about because the media tend to focus attention only on negative stereotyping.
‘Up and down Australia there is good news in Aboriginal health such as the Mums & Babies project in Townsville which has received nearly 40,000 patients since it opened in 2000, leading to the improved birth weight of Aboriginal babies.’
Ms Thiele said the health solutions already exist. It’s political will that’s lacking at federal, state and territory level. ‘Provide adequate funding as well as resources, allow Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders to shape and control their own health programs and we will solve the health crisis in our communities.’
The report finds that the investment required towards primary health care for Aboriginal peoples & Torres Strait Islanders is modest, estimating the shortfall in the range of $350-500 million per annum – equivalent to approximately a one per cent increase in the annual health budget.
‘Australians spend $1.9 billion on confectionery each year. Just one-quarter of this could help solve the crisis affecting Aboriginal peoples health,’ Ms Thiele said.
According to the report, to achieve Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander health equality within 25-years, it is recommended that federal, state and territory leaders from all sides of politics:
1. improve access for Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders to culturally appropriate primary health care, and to a level commensurate with need
2. increase the number of health practitioners working within Aboriginal health settings, and further develop and train the Indigenous health workforce
3. improve the responsiveness of mainstream health services and programs to Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander health needs
4. increase targeting of maternal and child health and greater support for Indigenous-specific population programs for chronic and communicable disease
5. increase funding and support for the building blocks of good health such as awareness and availability of nutrition, physical activity, fresh food, healthy lifestyles, and adequate housing
6. set national targets and benchmarks towards achieving healthy equality, by which progress can be closely monitored.

Click here for the full report