Thursday, February 12, 2015

We must keep striving to close the gap in Indigenous health

Mick Gooda and Kirstie Parker The Age February 11, 2015

Tony Abbott meets with children from the Gunyangara community during a visit to North East Arnhem Land last year. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
‘Just in the last week, three of my closest friends and a relative have been diagnosed with cancer. This is not an uncommon story, to be – as a community – constantly in grief, loss and trauma.’
These words, from Janine Mohamed, chief executive of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives, will be familiar to our communities across Australia.
Given the health sector is the largest employer of Indigenous people, [investing in Aboriginal medical services] also aligns with one of the stated Indigenous affairs priorities of the Australian government – of getting adults to work.
As will her realisation, during primary school, that the Australia she experienced was very different to that experienced by other Australians. There often was not enough food in the house, and her constant trips to the doctor, accompanying her mother with schizophrenia, meant she missed a lot of school.
When the Prime Minister delivers the annual address on progress on closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage in Parliament on Wednesday, we will be reminded that these experiences are woven into the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – but they need not be………
There was an overwhelming sense of the unfairness of this - Australia is a wealthy country; equal access to healthcare is a basic human right, and we should all expect it.
Since then, more than 200,000 Australians have pledged their support to ending this national disgrace, and the Prime Minister reports every year at this time on progress against a number of targets.
So, how are we doing? In our own report, we note that the target to halve mortality for under-fives by 2018 is on track to be met. Smoking rates are slowly going down, which then improves the likelihood of related diseases – lung cancer, heart disease – also lessening.
But closing the life expectancy target remains a harder job……….
…………Evidence shows Aboriginal community controlled health services controlled by the Aboriginal community are outperforming others in the detection and treatment of health issues.
This is because they know that everything is connected……….
Mick Gooda, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, and Kirstie Parker, the co-chair of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, are co-chairs of the Close the Gap campaign.
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