Picture above: Dr Ngaire Brown who joined NACCHO in late September as a Public Health Medical Officer
Leading Indigenous doctors have accused Australian politicians of being more interested in their re-elections than providing long-term solutions to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Dr Ngaire Brown said that cuts to state and territory budgets and services that affected health funding and programs were attacks on essential services and the rights of citizens.
And Dr Mick Adams, a former head of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and a 30 year campaigner for improved Indigenous health, said that without long-term approaches, there would be no closing of the gap in life expectancy. Many good programs such as Healthy for Life receive short term, or one-off funding, not the long term funding which is needed to really make a difference, he said.
Dr Brown spoke to the Koori Mail during a break at the Pacific Region Indigenous Doctors Conference in Alice Springs recently while Dr Adams was cycling with vision impaired Armidale man Steve Widders from Brisbane to Sydney to raise the profile of men’s health.
Dr Adams said that a long term approach to funding for Aboriginal community controlled health services was imperative, especially in the area of men’s health, which was often neglected by programs.
The reality is that if you make a good investment in health then you get good returns, but if you don’t invest then you don’t get anything he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Brown was forthright in her assessment of newly elected politicians slashing budgets with little thought to the value of programs.
No one has the stones to make a long-term commitment to the capacity of this country in terms of health and our economic sustainability beyond their own terms, Dr Brown said.
They’re worried about being there, staying there and what the polls say.
They are not worried about leaving a legacy that will extend beyond their political lives.
It’s like their social responsibilities have become irrelevant once they enter office.
Dr Brown described the Northern Territory intervention as an ugly beast that had used practices the old people have seen before, including a lack of respect and an undermining of traditions. It’s a step backwards in many ways, she said.
Dr Brown said however, that while politicians were failing to grasp the importance of tackling Indigenous health, the wider health profession was becoming increasingly respectful of Indigenous approaches.
There is an increasing interest acknowledgement and respect for Indigenous practices and of our understanding and perspectives of health and wellbeing, she said.
That includes the real need of being well and staying well, instead of the ongoing need to just treat chronic disease.
It’s not just about providing health services or acute care but it’s about understanding the underlying values of Indigenous people.
The need to respect identity and build resilience and prevent disease through a range of practices that aren’t necessary related to the physical being but all the other things that are incorporated into our culture.
Understanding those things and not seeing them as vague or non specific, not evidence based alternative approaches.
They’ve actually kept us well for 60,000 years prior to Western medicine, which has only been around a few thousand years.