- NACCHO CEO’s annual wrap-up
- Kids experiencing fewer hearing problems
- Reform delay causes dental decay
- Growing calls for on-Country dialysis
- Babies born to mums with type 2 diabetes at risk
- Vax burn-out leaves 1,000s vulnerable
- Sector Jobs
The image in the feature tile is of Pat Turner AM, NACCHO CEO and Lead Convenor of the Coalition of Peaks as it appeared in an article Australian Financial Review Magazine reveals Australia’s ten most culturally powerful people, published by 9 News on 1 October 2020.
The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is a platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.
We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.
NACCHO CEO’s annual wrap-up
On an episode of Speaking Out broadcast on ABC Listen Radio last Friday (1 December 2023) Larissa Behrendt spoke with Pat Turner AM, NACCHO CEO and Lead Convenor of the Coalition of Peaks on her thoughts on the year that’s been and where to from here.
Larissa Behrendt: It’s been a year of highs and lows in Indigenous affairs. Aunty Pat Turner has worked to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for over half a century, she says despite the referendum result, the focus should remain on creating better outcomes for First Nations people.
It’s become a tradition on Speaking Out to end the year by asking one of our most revered Elders about her thoughts on the year that’s been. Aunty Pat’s year in review gives us a chance to delve into the big issues from someone who’s been in the middle of it.
Aunty Pat welcome back once again. This has been quite a year so it’s a real privilege to have your insights since you’ve been right in the thick of many of the things we’re going to analyse. The most significant moment in Indigenous affairs this past year has no doubt been the referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. You were deeply involved in the design of it, how do you explain the referendum results Aunty Pat?
Pat Turner: I don’t really think it’s right that Aboriginal people are asked to explain it, or to say what went wrong because really, we only make up 3% of the population and somehow it assumes that, you know by me explaining it, that we were at fault and that it was our responsibility to educate all the Australians and all the people who have to vote to convince them about why we should have a constitutionally protected voice and I think there are a lot of others who are responsible for that.
But what I do know is so many of our people are now grieving and struggling to understand their place in our own country and that’s really bad. But in this grief, as I said previously, it is important that our young people really know that they are so loved, and that they should be so proud of their Aboriginal identity. I know I hug my grannies a little tighter in the last few weeks and we all must continue to do that.
You can read more of the interview here.
Kids experiencing fewer hearing problems
Indigenous children are experiencing fewer ear and hearing problems, though rates are still excessive and preventable. New data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has revealed the proportion of Indigenous children under 14 with an ear or hearing problem declined from 11% in 2001 to 6.9% in 2019. “Hearing problems in children can affect speech, language, thinking skills and behavioural development,” said AIHW spokesperson Jo Baker said. “First Nations people and in particular children, experience high rates of ear and hearing problems, which can have profound impacts on overall health and quality of life.”
While the decrease is promising, the research found three in 10 Indigenous children still experienced hearing loss in 2019, jumping to four in 10 in remote areas. In the broader community, 43% of Indigenous people aged 7 and over had measured hearing loss. The report found social and economic disadvantage to be contributing to greater rates of untreated acute and chronic ear infections among Indigenous people.
University of Newcastle ear, nose and throat surgeon Kelvin Kong said most ear disease and hearing loss affecting Indigenous people is preventable. “Access to culturally safe ear and hearing health specialist services is crucial for First Nations people to seek and receive timely diagnosis and treatment,” Professor Kong said. He said middle ear infections are the main cause of hearing loss among children and young people, and early detection is vital for appropriate treatment.
Reform delay causes dental decay
A Senate committee has investigated why so many Australians are missing out on dental care and made 35 recommendations for reform. By far the most sweeping is the call for universal coverage for essential dental care. The Senate committee report follows more than a dozen national inquiries and reports into dental care since 1998, many with similar findings.
Dental care was left out of Medicare from the start, and half a century later, Australia still funds oral health very differently to how we fund care for the rest of the body, with patients paying most of the cost themselves. People on lower incomes were much more likely to miss out. People living in the poorest areas are around three times as likely to wait more than two years between visits to the dentist, compared to people in the wealthiest areas. One in four report delaying care.
Even if you can afford to see a dentist, you might not be able to get in. Census data shows there is one dentist for every 400 to 500 people in inner-city parts of most capital cities. But in Blacktown North in outer Sydney, there is only one dentist for every 5,100 people. Regional areas fare even worse. There is only one for every 10,300 people in the northeast of Ballarat, Vic. In some remote areas, there are no working dentists at all. The consequences of missing dental care are serious. Around 80,000 hospital visits a year are for preventable dental conditions. Oral health problems are also linked to a range of chronic diseases affecting the rest of the body too, and may cause damage to the brain.
Compared to five years ago, more of us have untreated dental decay, are concerned about the appearance of our teeth, avoid food due to dental problems, and have toothaches. Despite all this, government spending on dental health has been falling. In the ten years to 2020-21, the federal government’s share of spending on dental services – excluding premium rebates – fell from 12% to 5%, while the states’ share fell from 10% to 9%.
To view The Conversation article Reform delay causes dental decay. It’s time for a national deal to fund dental care in full click here.
Growing calls for on-Country dialysis
Yindjibarndi Elder Tootsie Daniel sits patiently underneath a tree in the front yard of her home in Roebourne, 1,500 kms north of Perth in WA’s Pilbara. She’s waiting for a lift to a kidney dialysis centre, three hours away. It’s a laborious ritual she is meant to go through three times a week. “I’ve had problems getting people to take me to Port Hedland to do dialysis,” she says.”I remember the first week when I came back [from Perth] I missed dialysis for five weeks … it was so unbearable for me. “I was getting worried and upset … because my body was feeling it.”
Three hours down the highway in Port Hedland, Yamatji woman Elizabeth Barry has been on the waitlist for dialysis for more than a year. “Sometimes you do have anxiety because of that, because you know that you just got to take what you can get,” she says. “If we don’t get dialysis we are dead. It is as simple as that … I’ll take whatever days you give me.”
Recent figures from the WA Country Health Service showed the average wait time for dialysis in Port Hedland was 423 days, double last year’s figures. Locals say ballooning wait times result in a growing number of Indigenous people leaving their communities to access treatment in Perth. “There’s lots of other people: my people, my family in Perth that want to come back home,” Ms Daniel says. “Being in Perth is somewhere else. I’m not familiar with, no family, no friends to come visit. “I miss seeing my family and I’m going to miss my community … it made me feel homesick.”
To view the ABC News article Growing calls for on-country kidney dialysis in North West WA, as wait times grow to more than a year in full click here.
Babies born to type 2 diabetes mums at risk
Babies of mothers who have type 2 diabetes in pregnancy are being born with congenital defects including holes in the heart and malformed kidneys, frontline clinicians reveal as the nationwide diabetes battle extends into a new front. Endocrinologists at public hospitals have highlighted the trend as the numbers of pregnant women with youth-onset type 2 diabetes grows, with as many as 15% of babies born to these mothers having some form of congenital malformation.
The number of people with type 2 diabetes, a condition in which patients become insulin resistant and develop dangerously high blood sugar levels, has tripled in the past 30 years. One in 10 deaths is attributable to diabetes currently, and a minor or major amputation is performed every two days in Australian hospitals as a result of diabetes complications. The condition is also the leading cause of premature blindness and causes heart attack, strokes and nerve problems. There is no national data on the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in pregnancy, but the numbers of such women is growing as the age of diagnosis of the condition – previously a disease of middle age – gets younger and younger.”
According to Darwin endocrinologist Matthew Hare, who wrote his PhD on the topic at the Menzies School of Health Research, Aboriginal women in Central Australia have the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in pregnancy ever reported globally. Research led by Dr Hare found that there had been a 10-fold increase in the rate of type 2 diabetes among pregnant Aboriginal women in just 30 years, and the condition now affected almost one in 10 Aboriginal women in Central Australia. Alarmingly, one in 10 Aboriginal women with type 2 diabetes in pregnancy developed end-stage kidney disease requiring dialysis within 12 years of follow-up after the pregnancy. These women were almost 30 times more likely to develop end-stage kidney disease compared to women without any diabetes in pregnancy.
The above was extracted from an article Babies of diabetic mums born with birth defects: doctors published earlier today in The Australian.
Vax burn-out leaves 1,000s vulnerable
Every year, vaccines save thousands of lives and prevent countless sick days, yet millions of older Australians at high risk of serious illness are not getting their recommended shots and for some that may mean death. According to a new report A fair shot: How to close the vaccination gap, by the Grattan Institute, the pandemic has left many of us suffering vaccine burn-out – sick of vaccination, confused about which jabs we need, misled by misinformation, or complacent about the risks of not being vaccinated.
COVID-19 is less dangerous than it was at the peak of the pandemic, but is still killing thousands of Australians a year – since pandemic measures ended in October 2022, more than 5,000 Australians have died from COVID-19, making it a leading cause of death. COVID-19 vaccination rates have plunged. “Year after year, the same groups miss out. If you don’t speak English at home, you are only half as likely to get recommended COVID-19 vaccinations,” the report says, “and if you are Indigenous, you are a third less likely.” According to the report Australia urgently needs a policy reset to save lives and take pressure off hospitals.
The Grattan Institute wants to see a new National Vaccination Agreement between the federal government and the states, to set ambitious targets and forge a plan to drive up vaccination. Pharmacists and GPs should get more help to reach more people, including cultural groups that are missing out, and people living in aged care homes, Aboriginal health organisations should get more money to boost vaccination rates among Indigenous people and pandemic programs to reach communities with the lowest vaccination rates – including homeless people and some cultural groups – should be sustained and strengthened.
Sector Jobs – you can see sector job listings on the NACCHO website here.
Advertising Jobs – to advertise a job vacancy click here to go to the NACCHO website current job listings webpage. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find a Post A Job form. You can complete this form with your job vacancy details – it will then be approved for posting and go live on the NACCHO website.