Victorian Aboriginal health service: making a difference in Aboriginal health

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 12 Jun 2008

A Close the Gap open day at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) on Wednesday 25 June will promote healthy living and give the wider community a chance to learn about Aboriginal health issues.
The open day, from 10am to 2pm at 186 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, will showcase the work of Victoria’s oldest and largest Aboriginal health service. It is being organised by VAHS and Oxfam Australia.
Aboriginal health workers will be available to answer questions, and a series of talks will include community elder Aunty Alma Thorpe delivering an oral history of the service, which began in Gertrude Street in 1973. Information on healthy living also will be available.
VAHS CEO Rod Jackson said the Fitzroy service’s approach to health was holistic, with programs including financial wellbeing, ‘Active Elders’, diabetes clubs, family counselling, dental, women’s and children’s, adult mental health, a carer group and alcohol and drug support.
The service has 15,000 dental patients and 18,000 medical patients from throughout Victoria on its books, and receives around 300 telephone calls every day.
“VAHS has excellent immunisation rates, and reports consistently show an average of 91 per cent of children are fully immunised,” Mr Jackson said.
“This compares with 85.4 per cent of children across inner Melbourne and rates of less than 50 per cent for Aboriginal children across Victoria.
“It is ‘Close the Gap’ in action,” he said, referring to the campaign aiming to close the 17-year life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. “We are an organisation that is working every day to Close the Gap on Aboriginal health and life expectancy, and we do it on a small budget.”
VAHS is one of 25 Aboriginal community controlled health organisations throughout Victoria, which have annually elected Aboriginal boards, and a majority of Aboriginal staff and management, including Aboriginal health workers.
Oxfam Australia executive director Andrew Hewett paid tribute to the ‘remarkable work’ carried out by VAHS.
“The day is a celebration of what VAHS is achieving – many Aboriginal people will already know this, but the broader community is largely unaware. The open day is chance to learn about key health issues first hand.”
More than 115 000 Australians have signed the Close the Gap pledge, calling on governments to increase annual Aboriginal primary health funding, ensure equal access to health services and Aboriginal participation in their delivery, and take action on social determinants such as housing and education that are leading contributors to the poor health of Aboriginal people.
The open day will include lunch. RSVP to
Media enquiries to:
• Rod Jackson, CEO, Victorian Aboriginal Health Service on 03 94193000 or
• Laurelle Keough, media liaison coordinator – advocacy and campaigns, Oxfam Australia, on 03 9289 9336, 0409 960 100 or