When it comes to researching Indigenous health in Australia, accurate statistics are hard to find. Many people are not aware that they have certain conditions, and other people do not identify themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander when treated. However, experts agree that there is a health crisis for Indigenous Australians of all ages. Try to get your head around these facts:
- The average life expectancy for Indigenous men and women is 17 years less than non-Indigenous; 59 years for Indigenous men and 65 years of Indigenous women. These averages are lower than many developing countries.
- Indigenous deaths from diabetes are 7-10 times more common for Indigenous people than non-Indigenous people in Qld, SA, WA and NT.
- Indigenous babies are more likely to die in their first year than non-Indigenous babies.
- Indigenous people are more likely to die from intentional self harm, transport accidents and assault than non-Indigenous people.
Basically in almost every area of health from eye conditions and ear infections to kidney disease and heart problems – Indigenous Australians have it worse than everyone else. In fact they are the least healthy sub population in Australia.
Why is Indigenous health so bad?
Good health is more expensive than you’d think. No matter what your background, poor health is the result of similar social and economic factors. An estimated 30% of Indigenous households are in income poverty. Plus, the unemployment rate for Indigenous Australians stands at 16 percent, which is over three times the non-Indigenous rate (even though that rate has improved in recent years). If you don’t have enough income coming in - nutritious foods, medical education and good health care are not easily accessible.
There are also social and historical factors to think about. Throughout our nation’s history, Indigenous Australians have faced dispossession, dislocation and discrimination – simply because of their cultural background. All of these experiences contribute to the fact that Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders are currently disadvantaged in an economic and social sense. It also helps to explain the major problems Aboriginal communities have with alcohol, smoking and substance abuse.
But where you live is just as important as how you live. 26 out of 100 Indigenous Australians live in remote or very remote rural areas – which have their own serious issues of healthcare accessibility.
What’s being done?
Now that we know how huge the problem is, the Australian government has begun to sit up, take notice and actually do something. In March 2008, the Rudd Government and many other eminent Indigenous and health organisations signed the ‘Close the Gap’ statement of intent. The basic idea is that everyone involved is making a promise to ensure that ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have equal life chances to all other Australians’. One of the main goals is to even out the life expectancy rates by 2030. According to the statement, by 2018, all of the proper infrastructure should be in place to allow this to actually happen.
Beyond the government’s commitment to ‘closing the gap’, community and not for profit organisations have also jumped on board to help the cause. Everything from nutrition classes to new exercise courses are being integrated into Indigenous communities to try and promote a new healthy lifestyle.
With the government, Indigenous communities and the general public all pulling together – we have a great chance of fixing this problem for the next generation of Australians.
This page was updated by kate elise
How do I know this?
Australian Bureau of Statistics, Media Release: Indigenous unemployment falls http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mediareleasesby
Health InfoNet 2005, Summary of Australian Indigenous health (2008) www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/
Close the Gap: Statement of Intent (Indigenous Health Equality Summit) http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/health/statement
New South Wales Department of Aboriginal Affairs and NSW Reconciliation Council, Background briefing: Indigenous health.
ANTaR 2004, Healing Hands: Indigenous health rights action kit, 2nd Edition.
The Fred Hollows Foundation, Indigenous health in Australia, http://www.hollows.org.au/