NACCHO #closingthegap 10 years on: Constant political turmoil has impeded progress

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“Core health service models and associated workforce and funding arrangements should be developed as a matter of priority, with particular focus on regions with relatively poor health and inadequate levels of service.

Aboriginal and Community Controlled Health Services should be the preferred model for investment, as Aboriginal health services are best placed to deliver primary healthcare for our people. Our community-led and controlled services provide better health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly in relation to access, the prevention, detection and treatment of chronic disease, and maternal and child health.

We have to be the generation to close the gap, or many more young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will have shorter, poorer lives – made even more tragic to consider in light of how rich and blessed our nation is. Closing the gap will require tremendous effort. It will require renewed, redoubled and quarantined resourcing commitments. It will require strong, bipartisan political will and structures that extend beyond our three-year election cycles.”

Close the Gap Campaign

Aboriginal leader Professor Tom Calma speaking to ABC NEWS says political instability has held back progress on Closing the Gap over the last decade.

It is 10 years today since the campaign began to close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030.

The idea was first suggested by Professor Calma, during his time as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

A decade on, Professor Calma said the Closing the Gap targets, which cover health, education and employment outcomes, were more important than ever to keep governments accountable on Indigenous disadvantage.

But he is concerned many Aboriginal organisations are fatigued by changes in Indigenous policies and ministers.

“In the last few years as we all know, we’ve seen changes of prime ministers, we’ve seen changes of [Indigenous affairs] ministers, so all the advancement gets retarded in some way — the impact is lost,” Professor Calma said.

“That’s what the 10-year anniversary is about: we now need to get governments to recommit to working together [with the opposition], to having a strong policy focus.

“Take party politics out of it.”

Closing the Gap targets:

  • Close the life expectancy gap within a generation
  • Halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade
  • Ensure access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four year olds in remote communities within five years
  • Halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children within a decade
  • Halve the gap for Indigenous students in year 12 attainment rates by 2020
  • Halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decadeThis year’s Closing the Gap report card tabled in Parliament showed there had been little progress in raising the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peopleProfessor Calma said it was a long-term goal.    

“It has to be a generational target, a 25-year target,

Indigenous men have a life expectancy of 69.1 years, which is nearly 10 years less than for non-Indigenous men, while Indigenous women are also living almost 10 years less than other Australian women.

“The community is behind it — we’ve got over 220,000 Australians who have signed up to [support] the Close the Gap campaign,” he said.

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Lynore Geia​ is a registered nurse, midwife and proud Bwgcolman​ woman from Palm Island in North Queensland. She is also a PhD and passionate educator, committed to developing the next generation of health professionals.

When a team from the Close the Gap campaign met Lynore last year, she shared with us her experiences in working to close the gap in health outcomes for her people. Working in health for the past four decades, Lynore has seen some improvements on Palm Island, but says people continue to die far too young.

The stark reality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is a life expectancy that is still at least 10 years shorter

There’s intergenerational trauma that we’re still dealing with here. Wider Australia can say, ‘Oh people need to get over it’, but when you have profound trauma it’s not something you can just get over. You need to be able to work through that process.”

Lynore’s efforts, and those of her fellow health professionals working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, are supported by the hundreds of thousands of Australians today marking 10 years of the Close the Gap campaign.

The people’s movement established in 2006 under Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership is now supported by more than 220,000 pledge-signing Australians. The campaign aims to achieve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality by 2030.

Progress has been made over the past decade: improvements in infant and child health, a gradual closing of the gap in smoking rates, significantly more health checks being reported, increased immunisation rates, and greater access to medicines due to better resourcing for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector.

But there is a long road ahead and many challenges remain. In 2016, the stark reality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is a life expectancy that is still at least 10 years shorter than non-Indigenous Australians. This is a national shame, but we have the opportunity and obligation to close the gap.

Today, on National Close the Gap Day, more than 1500 community and corporate events are being held across the country. This generation of Australians is, in ever growing numbers, demanding that our governments take decisive action and honour the commitments made.

We have to be the generation to close the gap, or many more young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will have shorter, poorer lives – made even more tragic to consider in light of how rich and blessed our nation is. Closing the gap will require tremendous effort. It will require renewed, redoubled and quarantined resourcing commitments. It will require strong, bipartisan political will and structures that extend beyond our three-year election cycles.

Today, we renew our call for all political parties, prior to the upcoming federal election, to commit to adequate resourcing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

Specifically, there needs to be an overall increase in resources directed towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health – in proportion to population size, service need and demand.

Core health service models and associated workforce and funding arrangements should be developed as a matter of priority, with particular focus on regions with relatively poor health and inadequate levels of service.s

Aboriginal and Community Controlled Health Services should be the preferred model for investment, as Aboriginal health services are best placed to deliver primary healthcare for our people. Our community-led and controlled services provide better health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly in relation to access, the prevention, detection and treatment of chronic disease, and maternal and child health.

We need a culturally safe health system that is free from institutional racism. It shouldn’t be a surprise that racism and institutional racism in the health sector continues to be a major barrier to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seeking medical assistance. That is why the Close the Gap campaign’s 2016 progress and priorities report recommends to government that the Senate select committee on health inquire into racism and institutional racism in healthcare settings, and its contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health inequality.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, like non-Indigenous Australians, have the right to comprehensive primary healthcare that is aligned to our holistic concept of health. Health services should appropriately address the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of communities in a holistic way.

We’ve known for a long time that our people are best placed to determine and deliver the healthcare we need. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals are, in ever greater numbers, working on the front line to close the gap. We must support them.

On Palm Island, Lynore and her colleagues will continue their great work to bring about health equality. Ultimately, she says, “health is about our survival

 

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