Making a Difference in Aboriginal Health

One in six Aboriginal people in Australia report having been admitted to hospital in the last 12 months.

Despite staying longer when admitted, Aboriginal people are less likely to have treatment in hospital than other patients, and it seems that this difference is at least in part due to the differences in the way that Aboriginal patients are dealt with by the system and individuals within it.

There is a myth, a belief held by many Australians, including those in the media and in politics, that vast amounts of money have been spent on Aboriginal health over decades but all to no avail. This myth needs to be challenged.

It’s a myth on two counts. First, any increases in resources for Aboriginal health have been modest and patchy, as evidenced by the plethora of pilot programs that are trialled but not universally implemented.

Secondly, despite the relatively small increase in investment, there have been some measure of improvement in Aboriginal health status in recent years. The recent commitment to close the gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians within a generation is welcome. However no one should be under any illusion that this can be done without significantly expanding resources. I would suggest three key areas for action.

First we know that a person’s social and economic position in society, their early life experiences, their exposure to stress, their educational and employment status, and their exclusion from participation in society all exert a powerful influence on their health throughout life. Of particular importance are poverty and education, including parental and particularly maternal education. Therefore we have to make a determined effort to address the social determinants of health if we expect long-term changes in the health of Aboriginal communities.

Second, there is abundant evidence from overseas, both from Indigenous and non-Indigenous contexts, that access to appropriate, comprehensive primary health care services is critical to good health. There is also accumulating evidence from within Australia that improved primary health care services, especially those under Aboriginal community control, are contributing at both the local and national levels to better health in our communities. So we need to make a determined effort to extend and improve primary health care services.

Third, we need better and more appropriate hospital care for Aboriginal people. In recent times the focus has been very much on primary health care as the key strategy for improving Aboriginal health. This is as it should be given the long-term gains it is bringing to the detection and management of disease. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that one in six Aboriginal people in Australia report having been admitted to hospital in the last 12 months.

Despite staying longer when admitted, Aboriginal people are less likely to have treatment in hospital than other patients, and it seems that this difference is at least in part due to the differences in the way that Aboriginal patients are dealt with by the system and individuals within it.

This is the start of a speech given by Pat Anderson, Chairperson, Cooperative Research Centre for
Indigenous Health to the National Rural Health Alliance Public Symposium in September 2008.
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Robbo

Robbo is a pharmacist working with a very remote Aboriginal Health Service in the deserts of Western Australia. + Andrew Robbo Roberts

2 thoughts on “Making a Difference in Aboriginal Health”

  1. Interesting to hear this out of Australia. Thought it to be common sense that all marginalised peoples either indigenous to an area or not, lack the most basic Western world preventative health care. They seek emergency care and get dumped to the curbs to follow-up with their Primary Care Physician. Hello!!! They don’t have one and will not follow-up outside of hospital environment. That’s why they go to the Emergency Room! Physicians hands are tied. Most I’ve spoken to truly want to provide the proper courses of treatment but Hospital Administration (Red Tape) won’t allow them to. They have to follow the A, B, C’s of hospital treat and release administrative protocol. The worse system worldwide for all those who can not afford private costly health insurance policies. Aboriginal and the marginalised are the ones who get left to bite the dust.

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