Lift the death sentence on indigenous lives

Media Releases, Opinion article written on the 12 Apr 2007

In the last week intense media attention has focused on the challenge Australia faces to close the gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders and other Australians. It’s hard to be believe but impossible to deny that Indigenous Australia live nearly 20-years less than the rest of us.
A gap of twenty-years in life span is plainly unacceptable. Nor should we accept that they end up in hospitals at twice the rate of other Australians. Neither is it fair that while most of Australia can look forward to long healthy lives with access to some of the best healthcare facilities in the world, Indigenous Australians can expect to die at much higher rates of heart disease, cancer, and kidney failure to name a few diseases. It might shock you to learn that Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders go blind and lose limbs as a result of diabetes.
The sad fact is Indigenous Australians have not shared in the health gains enjoyed by other Australians over the last twenty-years. Indeed a report published this week by NACCHO and Oxfam found that Australia is ranked bottom of a league table of first-world wealthy nations working to improve the health and wellbeing of first nation people. Yet it is inconceivable that a country as wealthy as Australia cannot solve a health crisis affecting less then three per cent of its population.
And that is why this week a coalition of Australia’s leading Indigenous health, human rights and development agencies as well as high profile Australians including Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe launched the Close the Gap campaign to put an end to health discrimination. Together we invite you to join us to be a part of Australia’s generation that pledged to Close the Gap between the life expectancy of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within 25-years.
The naysayer’s argue that there are no votes in Aboriginal issues. Or that Aboriginal Australians are unable to help themselves that governments at all levels have tried to fix the problem and that there are no new answers.
But there are always answers. It is a question of Government leadership at both federal and state level across all parties. It is time Australia flexed its muscles and mustered the political will to redress Australia’s health inequalities between Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders and other Australians. Where there’s a will there’s a way. We believe our leaders have the strength and skills to take up the challenge.
Australia-wide Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander communities are taking action to improve the health of their people. In Townsville for example a Mums & Babies project has received nearly 40,000 patients since it opened in 2000, leading to improved birth weight of Aboriginal babies. In far north-west South Australia, a primary healthcare service for the Anangu people has a national reputation for best practice clinical services. It operates 9 clinics and a 16-bed aged care facility as well as a range of other services such as dental and healthcare programs.
The opportunities are there. The Australian Medical Association estimate that an additional investment of $460 million a year would begin to meet the health need. Australians spend $1.9 billion on confectionery each year. A fraction of that amount would help solve the indigenous health crisis.
What could be more important than investing in the health and wellbeing of the next generation of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander children? Join with us now and together let’s take up this national challenge. Together let’s send a powerful message to our nation’s leaders that all Australians want the health of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders to be the nation’s number one priority.
We want to see the 20-year gap in life expectancy closed within a generation. It is a challenge we know Australia can meet. It is time to Close the Gap.
Andrew Hewett
Executive Director
Oxfam Australia
Published in The Age on 9 April 2007.