Dr Dawn Casey, Deputy CEO NACCHO and Co-Chair Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19 spoke on NITV-The Point on Tuesday 8 June about the latest rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, its take up and hesitancy, and the Victorian lockdown.
“There are just over 65,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been vaccinated with their first dose so far. There was hesitancy when the announcements around the issues that AstraZeneca was not suitable for under 50s, but the numbers have started to pick up.”
“There has been no blood clots for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recorded.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are now eligible to receive the vaccines, including those aged 16 and over. Speak to your healthcare worker to find out more.
You can view the interview below or by clicking here.
or information on the vaccines, visit the Australian Government Department of Health website.
The AMA has today called for a tax on sugary drinks as a key plank of its plan to tackle chronic disease and make Australiathe healthiest country in the world.
In his address to the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday, AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said that Australia lags behind comparable nations in health outcomes and disease prevention, and it was ‘time for action’ to reduce consumption of sugar-filled drinks.
“More than 2.4 billion litres of sugary drinks are consumed every year in Australia. That’s enough to fill 960 Olympic sized swimming pools,” Dr Khorshid said.
“Diabetes, obesity and poor vascular health are huge contributors to the burden on our health system. The tax could save lives, and save millions of dollars in healthcare costs,” he said.
The tax proposed in the AMA’s report released yesterday would raise the retail price of the average supermarket sugary drink by 20%. This would be an important first step towards tackling obesity and raise revenue to take further steps.
The AMA’s call for a tax on sugary drinks is part of its new blueprint for a robust, sustainable health system – beyond the pandemic – with high quality, patient-centred care at its heart. The Vision for Australia’s Health, also launched yesterday, calls for reform around five policy pillars – general practice, public hospitals, private health, equity and innovation.
View The Vision for Australia’s Health plane here.
View the A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages: Modelled impacts on sugar consumption and government revenue report here.
AMA – Vision for Australia’s Health report – 5 pillars.
Restoration to guide health reforms
The Aotearoa New Zealand Government has announced sweeping reforms for the nation’s health system.
They have been welcomed by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) ‘as a health system structure seeking to live its commitments’ to the Treaty of Waitangi and refusing any longer to ‘tolerate the health inequities experienced by our Māori and Pasifika whanau’.
Dr Sandra Hotu, Chair of the RACP Māori Health Committee, and Dr George Laking, RACP Aotearoa New Zealand President, outline the changes and their implications for improving health and health systems, for both Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.
Together with an ethic of restoration, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand must look to a practice of partnership informed by the stories and experiences of our First Nations. Partnership must be tangible. It must be expressly lived as a solution space lead by Indigenous voices, rather than a problem space. Partnership is informing the refresh of Closing the Gap 2019–2029, as described in the partnership agreement between the Community Controlled Peak Organisations and the National Federation Reform Council.
As Alex Brown and Eddie Mulholland wrote on Croakey in 2020, the agreement for power-sharing represents a “critical moment for genuine engagement between Australian governments and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs)”.
The vision of the ACCHOs – ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people enjoy quality of life through whole-of-community self-determination and individual spiritual, cultural, physical, social and emotional well-being’ resonates with the intent of the Māori Health Authority. This is because the rationale for each is so closely aligned: racism in healthcare as well as the need for culturally safe services to address health inequity.
You can read the article at Croakey Health Media here.
Aboriginal kids washing their hands. Image credit The Conversation.
Better health literacy for better equity
New survey findings show a significant number of consumers need to be supported to feel more in control of their health care. The report, commissioned from the Consumers Health Forum (CHF) by NPS MedicineWise, defines and measures health literacy in Australia. It also identifies gaps which are preventing people from accessing the best possible health care.
“Health literacy is core to us delivering more equitable health outcomes,” said Leanne Wells, CEO of CHF.
The survey of more than 1,500 respondents found that approximately one in five consumers:
Rarely or never felt comfortable asking their doctor, pharmacist or nurse when they needed more information.
Rarely or never felt comfortable asking the health professional to explain anything they didn’t understand.
Found the information a health professional gave them always or often confusing.
“We need to increase consumers’ capacity to manage and feel in control of their health care, including around medicines. It’s really important that we strive to improve medicines literacy because we know people at higher risk of medication-related harm are people with multiple conditions, people who are taking lots of medications and people with English as a second language,” said Ms Wells.
You can view the New survey results shine a light on health literacy in Australia media release here.
You can read the Consumer Health Literacy Segmentation and Activation Research Project report here.
Artwork competition: ear and hearing health
Calling all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists aged 13 years or older!
NACCHO invites you to design an artwork about how important ear and hearing health is within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The winning artwork will receive a $500 voucher prizeand will be used across Australia for NACCHOs National Ear and Hearing health program.
The winning artwork will be used on merchandise, stationary and promotional materials to celebrate current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievements, across Australia.
Click here to submit your artwork and for conditions of entry.
All entries must be submitted by: 21 July 2021.
NDIS Ready grant round closing soon
Attention all Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations!
NDIS Ready Indigenous Business Support Funding (IBSF) ACCO round grant applications are CLOSING SOON!
Grants are available to help up to 100 eligible ACCHOs and ACCOs address the basic establishment costs, and business and technical challenges in registered and delivering services under the NDIS and to equip themselves to operate more effectively long-term under the NDIS model.
Information on the grant and how to apply can be found on the IBSF website.
Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo was a Torres Strait Islander who believed Australian laws on land ownership were wrong and fought to change them. He was born in 1936 on Mer, which is also known as Murray Island, in the Torres Strait.
In 1982 a legal land ownership case was lodged with the High Court of Australia by a group of Meriam from the Eastern Torres Strait Islands, led by Eddie Mabo.
The Mabo decision was a legal case that ran for 10 years. On 3 June 1992, the High Court of Australia decided that ‘terra nullius’ should not have been applied to Australia.
Sadly, Eddie Mabo passed away in January 1992, just five months before the High Court made its decision.
The Mabo decision was a turning point for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights because it acknowledged their unique connection with the land.
It also led to the Australian Parliament passing the Native Title Act in 1993.
For more information about Mabo Day visit the National Museum of Australia website here.
Eddie Mabo NACCHO graphic. Original photo by: Jim McEwan.
Mandatory reporting of influenza vaccinations
The National Immunisation Program (NIP) wants to remind all Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services about the importance of checking expiration dates of vaccines, disposing of out of date stock and reporting accurate data to the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR).
It is mandatory under the Australian Immunisation Register Act 2015 for all vaccination providers to report all influenza vaccinations administered on or after 1 March 2021 to the AIR.
A recent incident reported by a General Practice, where some 2020 influenza stock was found among 2021
influenza stock, prompted the Australian Government Department of Health (the Department) to investigate a range of circumstances that may have led to this, including checking data reported to AIR.
This investigation concluded that there was no 2020 stock in state and territory vaccine warehouses, however there were a high number of vaccines, with 2020 influenza batch numbers, reported to the AIR as being administered this influenza season (2021).
We ask that you remind all staff to double check expiration dates of vaccines prior to administration, dispose of out of date stock appropriately and that you encourage all staff at your practice to double check the information being reported to the AIR is correct prior to submitting it to AIR.
A letter with a copy of the above information can be downloaded here.
Please download a fact sheet outlining the mandatory reporting obligations for vaccination providers, and helpful tips for reporting to the AIR here.
Vaccines. Image credit: Dallas News.
Women living remotely must travel for birth
Heavily pregnant women living in remote and regional areas across Australia are being forced to pack their bags and head to hospital to wait for the birth of their babies, far away from family, culture, community, and connection.
Women’s health experts say this experience is traumatic for expectant parents and expensive for governments, but that the answer is simple: open more culturally safe birthing centres outside of big cities.
Women who live outside of the four major birthing hubs in the NT (Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine and Nhulunbuy) need to travel to the nearest hospital at 38 weeks to wait for their baby to be born. For most of these women, English is not their first language, and some don’t speak English at all. Most women travel alone and although they are offered a translator in hospital, one is not always available.
Charles Darwin University professor of midwifery Sue Kildea labelled Northern Territory Health’s remote birthing policy as “outrageous”.
“Why do they send women by themselves? We don’t even let them take their kids with them,” she said.
“It’s the one thing that we should be so ashamed of.”
Experts are calling for more regional birthing hubs to fill the gap.
Judy Mununggrruitj lives in Galiwin’ku, a remote community in East Arnhem Land.(ABC News: Emma Vincent).
Expanding birth centres to remote NT 5+ years away
Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles says the government is looking at returning birthing facilities to remote and regional locations, and hopes to do so within the next decade.
“It’s a huge step to take forward, but I think it’s an important step,” she said.
Ms Fyles said investing in birthing on country services was a “priority” and NT Health was working toward developing a Territory-specific birthing on country model.
But not everyone’s convinced returning birthing to remote locations is the way forward.
Worimi woman Marilyn Clarke is the chair of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Health Committee.
She said returning low-risk birth to remote communities could “be a bit tricky”, because if there was an unexpected complication, mother and baby were far away from emergency care.
Dr Clarke also said staffing remote hubs would be challenging and the NT had long-running issues recruiting and retaining health workers.
Instead, she said governments should invest in strong, Indigenous-led pre- and post-natal care in remote and regional locations.
You can read more about this story on ABC News here.
Remote NT. Image source: Croakey Health Media.
Remote ENT service delivery model
The Rural and Remote Health journal has done a rapid literature review aimed to inform the development of a new sustainable, evidence-based service delivery model for ear, nose and throat (ENT) services across Cape York, Australia. This work seeks to investigate the research question ‘What are the characteristics of successful outreach services which can be applied to remote living Indigenous children?’
A comprehensive search of three major electronic databases (PubMed, CINAHL and MEDLINE) and two websites (HealthInfo Net and Google Scholar) was conducted for peer-reviewed and grey literature, to elicit characteristics of ENT and hearing services in rural and remote Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. The search strategy was divided into four sections: outreach services for rural and remote communities; services for Indigenous children and families; telehealth service provision; and remote ear and hearing health service models. A narrative synthesis was used to summarise the key features of the identified service characteristics.
In total, 71 studies met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review, which identified a number of success and sustainability traits, including employment of a dedicated ear and hearing educator; outreach nursing and audiology services; and telehealth access to ENT services. Ideally, outreach organisations should partner with local services that employ local Indigenous health workers to provide ongoing ear health services in community between outreach visits.
The evidence suggests that sound and sustainable ENT outreach models build on existing services; are tailored to local needs; promote cross-agency collaboration; use telehealth; and promote ongoing education of the local workforce.
On Duty: Kelvin Kong treats a patient in Broome in 2015. Picture: Simone De Peak.
Soft drink ads hit ‘vulnerable’
What keeps consumers hooked on high sugar soft drink? Advertising, of course. But why are some consumers more adept at ignoring these cues than others?
A new study from Flinders University, has found participants with an automatic bias towards soft drinks – or difficulty resisting sweet drinks compared to non-sweetened control beverages (e.g., water) – are more responsive to the advertisements than those without these tendencies.
The Australian study compared the ability of 127 university-age students (18-25 year olds) to withstand or succumb to the urge to reach for a soft drink when viewing television advertisements.
Not only can regular soft drink consumption lead to weight gain and tooth decay, with a typical 375ml can of soft drink contain about 10 teaspoons of sugar, but so can these ’empty’ calories reduce intake of calcium, fibre and other nutrients in a healthy diet.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015) research estimated 50-60% of adolescent and young people consume soft drink every day.
“The cognitive vulnerabilities exposed in our study is an important lesson to future possible regulation of television advertising or public health campaigns,” says co-author Amber Tuscharski.
“After all, their exposure to soft drink cues will continue as manufacturers and marketers advertise their products in multiple locations – from TV commercials to in-store, service stations, public transport and billboards.”
Lead Researcher Flinders University Professor of Psychology Eva Kemps on fizzy drinks.
Ways to support healthy foods in remote stores
Monash University invites you to join in their HEALTHY STORiES = GOOD FOOD inaugural event to share remote community stores and takeaway advances through film for improved health. This live online series features stories from remote communities and leaders on ways to support healthy foods in remote community stores.
HEALTHY STORiES = GOOD FOOD addresses the issue of food security and aims to foster critical discussion towards health-enabling stores. It is a celebration and sharing of initiatives, whilst acknowledging barriers and having a focus on a food secure future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remote communities.
Please share with other remote store owners, community leaders and members, government policy-makers, health workers, academics, and practitioners who have a passion for thriving and healthy community stores.
3 June (11:30am – 12:30pm AEDT)Webinar 1:Remote Stores: Healthy Takeaways I Employment opportunities 15 June (12:30 – 1:30pm AEDT)Webinar 2:Food supply, delivery, local food economies 16 June (12:30 – 1:30pm AEDT)Webinar 3:Food affordability and pricing for healthy food 17 June (12:30 – 1:30pm AEDT)Webinar 4:The 4P’s of marketing for healthy food in stores
Facilitator of the online series: Ms Nicole Turner, Indigenous Allied Health Australia & NSW Rural Doctors Network
After a busy start to the year, Easter provided Broome Regional Aboriginal Medical Service’s (BRAMS) staff with the opportunity to take a break and refresh. BRAMS continues to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to the local community, and more than 150 patients have received the jab so far, with no side effects being reported. We strongly encourage all our patients to come into the clinic to discuss their vaccine, particularly if you have concerns or questions.
We are excited to announce yet another expansion of our disability services, through a supported mobile playgroup program for children aged 0-14.
We have also commenced the recruitment process for our Chronic Disease Program, and we look forward to updating you in our next newsletter on the newest members of the team.
Finally, look out for us on your TV screens – we recently filmed our first television advertisement, and can’t wait to see the final product. A big thank you to all staff and patients who took part in the filming.
Please view the latest edition of the BRAMS newsletter here.
Food, most effective weapon against chronic disease
Dietitians Australia have released a response to the Draft National Preventive Health Strategy (NPHS). Dietitians Australia strongly agree with the visions of the draft NPHS: ‘To improve the health of all Australians at all stages of life, through early intervention, better information, targeting risk factors, and addressing the broader causes of poor health and wellbeing’ saying it is essential that all life stages are included and determinates of health outside an individual’s control are acknowledged and addressed.
The Dietitians Australia response specifically mentions the need for:
improved cultural safety across the Australian health system to improve access to appropriate and responsive health care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the prioritisation of care through ACCHOs
health and health care information to be tailored and translated for all Australians, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and people with disability
prioritisation of partnership research and interventions in specific population groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
reviews of the Australian Dietary Guidelines, including Dietary Guidelines for Older Australians and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Guide to Healthy Eating
To view the Dietitians Australia response click here.
Image source: NPY Women’s Council website.
Burn victims from the bush face financial stress
Living away from community and country, Aboriginal families of children with severe burns also face critical financial stress to cover the associated costs of health care and treatment, a new study shows. A recent study by Flinders researchers Dr Courtney Ryder and Associate Professor Tamara Mackean found feelings of crisis were common in Aboriginal families with children suffering severe burns, with one family reporting skipping meals and others selling assets to reduce costs while in hospital.
The economic hardship was found to be worse in families who live in rural areas—some households traveling more than five hours for treatment, creating undue financial strain. Participants of the study included families from SA, NSW and QLD who are already part of the larger-Australia-wide Coolamon study on burns injuries in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Image source: The George Institute for Global Health.
Funding boost for Australian Cancer Plan
The Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, said the Australian Government is investing an additional $6.7 million to support and improve outcomes for all Australians affected by cancer. In 2020, an estimated 150,000 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in Australia, with around 50,000 Australians tragically passing away. As part of this investment; $4.7 million to support strengthening supportive and primary cancer care and genomic cancer clinical trials in Australia; national leadership in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cancer control, and the development of an Optimal Care Pathway for Neuroendocrine Tumours (NETs). $2 million to investigate children’s brain cancer, breast cancer, melanoma and lymphoma, and other important areas of cancer research through Cancer Australia’s Priority-driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme (PdCCRS).
Minister Hunt said “While Australia is a world leader in cancer control and we have made great strides in improving cancer mortality and survival rates, cancer still has significant impacts on individuals, families, communities and the health system. We must continue to take action to address the multifaceted challenge of tackling cancer and in particular the disparities in outcomes among cancer types and many population groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
Intimate partner violence affect’s children’s health
Childhood should be a happy and carefree time, but often it doesn’t work out that way. Children are exposed to all the stresses and strains that affect the families and communities in which they grow up. Recent research shows this can have lifelong implications for health with children exposed to intimate partner violence by age 10 being 2–3 times more likely to have a psychiatric diagnosis and/or emotional and behavioural difficulties and also 2–3 times more likely to have impaired language skills, sleep problems, elevated blood pressure and asthma.
Studies consistently show there are many barriers women have to overcome, including shame, fear of judgement, and cost and availability of health care and other support services in regional communities. For women whose first language isn’t English, and Aboriginal women, there are extra cultural, language and systems-level barriers. Systems-level barriers include the persistence of cultural stereotypes, limited availability of language services, and experiences of discrimination when seeking care and support.
To view The Conversation article in full click here.
Image source: Giving Compass website.
Remote PHC Manuals project update
The Remote Primary Health Care Manuals are currently being reviewed and updated. Monthly updates are being provided to keep health services and other organisations up-to-date during the review process. You can find the April 2021 update here.
KAMS Suicide Prevention Plan consultations
The SEWB Team at KAMS, on behalf of the WA Mental Health Commission, would like to invite you to attend a consultation on the development of a regional suicide prevention plan for Aboriginal people in the Kimberley for the period of 2021–2025.
The Western Australian Suicide Prevention Framework 2021-2025 recommends the development of a WA Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Strategy, informed by dedicated regional plans prioritising culturally secure approaches to social and emotional wellbeing and suicide prevention.
A draft of the Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Regional Plan 2021–2025 will undergo face to face consultations to ensure it is responsive to, and respectful of, the needs of Aboriginal people in the Kimberley region.
To view the consultation dates and community visits click here.
Image source: The University of WA.
Call for abstracts – Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander health conference
The University of Melbourne, Department of Rural Health are pleased to advise that abstract submissions for their 6th Annual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Conference are now open that address our conference theme ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Wellbeing’.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Conference is an opportunity for sharing information and connecting people that are committed to reforming the practice and research of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and celebrates Aboriginal knowledge systems and strength-based approaches to improving the health outcomes of Aboriginal communities.
This is an opportunity to present evidence-based approaches, Aboriginal methods and models of practice, Aboriginal perspectives and contribution to health or community led solutions, underpinned by cultural theories to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing.
For further information and details of how to submit an abstract click here.
NSW – Sydney – Sydney Morning Herald
Indigenous Affairs Journalist x 1 FT (Identified) – Sydney
The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) is looking to hire an Indigenous journalist who will be responsible for putting Indigenous voices at the centre of the publication’s coverage of Indigenous issues influencing and impacting our world today.
The SMH looking to build upon the success of the project, which launched last year and resulted in:
More than 60 pieces of independent journalism featuring across The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Times and WA Today;
Stunning longform feature pieces in our flagship magazine Good Weekend;
Hugely popular five-episode podcast series, Relieving History;
Overall digital content achieving almost 1.5 million page views.
The audience response and engagement highlights just how valuable this content is to our readers, who want The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age to be covering Indigenous Affairs regularly and engage with the issues affecting our First Nations people. The role, based in Sydney, will focus on coverage of and commentary on Indigenous issues including news, features and multimedia projects.
To view the job description and to express interest in this position click here.
Image source: Agenda 360.
Patient Experience Week 2021
Patient Experience Week(26–30 April) is a nationally recognized week designed to celebrate all those who provide excellent patient experience at all levels of an organisation.
Patient Experience Week is an initiative of the Beryl Institute inspired by members of the Institute community. The week provides a focused time for organisations to celebrate accomplishments, re-energise efforts and honour the people who impact patient experience every day. From nurses and physicians, to support staff and executive professionals, to patients, families and communities served, the Institute hopes to bring together healthcare organisations across the globe to observe Patient Experience Week.
While Liverpool became a COVID-19 hotspot during the pandemic, not one case was recorded at the Gandangara clinic. Medical adviser to NACCHO, Jason Agostino, said Indigenous leadership was critical in this achievement. “All the ACCHOs across the country have just been really incredible in getting messages out to their communities about how to stay safe in the initial part of the pandemic and in those spots where there have been outbreaks, places in Melbourne, in Brisbane, have just been exceptional in supporting their communities and keeping them safe,” he said. “So it’s been a whole bunch of things all put together but at the heart of it is leadership by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
The second phase of the nation’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out started today with 33 ACCHOs being the first to administer the jab, including the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council’s health service in Liverpool, in Sydney’s south-west.
But questions remain within the community about the vaccine. “A lot of them are saying yes, a lot of them are just not sure,” said Dunghutti elder and Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council board member Aunty Gail Smith. Aunty Gail, who’s worked in the health industry for almost 40 years, said despite the community’s low case numbers the pandemic had had a huge impact. “It was a big strain because they couldn’t go out or meet their families, a lot of us come from country areas we couldn’t go there as well,” she said. “I think it’s been tough across the board for everybody… but now we’re slowly getting back to it. I encourage everyone if they could, it’s up to them, [but] if its gonna help our community and our people, why not, because we’re survivors and we want to survive for our next generations as well.”
Dunghutti Elder and Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council board member Aunty Gail Smith. Image source: ABC News website.
Kimberley Aboriginal Health Research Alliance launched
Kimberley-based Aboriginal community-controlled and government health services, research institutes and universities have united to form the Kimberley Aboriginal Health Research Alliance (KAHRA) with the objective of improving and promoting the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people in the Kimberley through the development and application of practical health research. This collaboration combines the power of research to drive evidence-based change, the commitment of regional health services, and the vast cultural knowledge and strength of communities.
The development of collaborative projects utilising the strengths of the Alliance will seek to drive change to health outcomes, policy and services within the Kimberley and ultimately improve health outcomes of Kimberley Aboriginal community members. KAHRA has already seen unprecedented collaboration across health services in the region, with a collective voice advocating for better use of data to inform health service delivery in the region. Work has begun on a project to enable health services and researchers to see the full picture of disease burden in the region.
KAMS CEO Vicki O’Donnell speaking at the launch of KAHRA.
Rhetoric and action gap needs to close
As communities across Australia mark National Close the Gap Day, leaders of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), the Uniting Church and UnitingCare Australia have come together to call for enduring reforms to support self-determination and tangible outcomes for First Peoples. According to Pastor Mark Kickett, UAICC Interim Chair, “after 13 years of Closing the Gap, it is time to turn rhetoric into real action that genuinely empowers First Peoples and delivers lasting benefits.
Pastor Kickett continued, “the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap has the potential to be a gamechanger. But we are yet to see the structural change and funding commitments needed to achieve real reform, and pressure needs to be kept on governments to maintain their commitments and to apply the principles of reform that they signed off in 2020. Real change requires more than words and minor policy tinkering. It requires closing the gap between rhetoric and action. And it requires enduring structural and constitutional reform to empower First Peoples to take leadership in their affairs, in true partnership with government. The response of our communities to COVID-19 demonstrated the benefits of community-led action and the enduring resilience, creativity, and decisiveness of First Peoples leaders and governance.”
Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer said the Uniting Church lamented with First Peoples the ongoing health inequality, lack of self-determination, experiences of racism, high incarceration rates and the tragic prevalence of preventable deaths in custody. Dr Palmer said investing in solutions led by First Peoples was key to Closing the Gap.
Mutitjulu elders at Uluru. Photo by Jimmy Widders Hunt. Image source: BBC News.
Aged care fails remote communities
For the last five years, Mary Dadbalag, aged in her 90s and confined to a wheelchair, has been living in a tent on a verandah in the NT remote community of Jibena. For the last three years, her granddaughter Jacqueline Phillips has been knocking on every government service provider’s door she can think of asking for help to get her grandmother a bedroom built with a toilet attached. She said her grandmother is living in the tent at the edge of what she described as a “chicken house” because she can’t get to the nearest toilet 20 metres away over grass in her wheelchair, but she can shuffle to the edge of the verandah.
“It’s upsetting, not healthy and not hygienic. Like, her tent is just right next to where she does her toilets. She’s a great, great, great-grandmother, one of the last elders of our region and she’s just not being respected.” Ms Phillips is worried her grandmother may continue to fall through the cracks. “There needs to be better aged care services, especially for the people on the homelands,” she said. “We really need the federal government to listen to the very remote communities and provide that service, it’s human rights.”
Mary Dadbalag has been living in a tent on the veranda of a makeshift home. Image source: ABC News.
High youth detention FASD rates acknowledged
Danila Dilba Health Service has welcomed the release of the Senate’s report on effective approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and support for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) (17 March 2021). Danila Dilba provides comprehensive primary health services within the Darwin/Palmerston region, including to many children and families impacted by FASD or other neurodevelopmental impairments. The release of the Senate’s report the day before National Close The Gap Day provides a timely reminder of the tangible ways the government can fulfil its commitment to address the health gap between First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians.
The report highlights the need to incorporate FASD prevention, assessment, and management into a comprehensive primary health care model. In particular, the Senate Committee recognises the importance of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) like Danila Dilba in delivering culturally appropriate, holistic care to families affected by FASD.
Danila Dilba’s Head of Clinical Governance, Dr Andrew Webster, gave evidence to the inquiry about the lack of culturally appropriate assessment, therapeutic interventions, and support for children with FASD and their families, “ACCHOs can provide a ‘one-stop shop’ within a trusted service rather than families having to go through the process of diagnosis and therapy with multiple providers. Sadly, due to the barriers to assessment, many children suffering from FASD or other impairments do not get a diagnosis, and so are unable to receive the supports that they need. It is these children that we then unfortunately see coming to the attention of the child protection and justice systems.”
To view Danila Dilba’s media release in full click here.
Image source: The Conversation.
International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Yesterday the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) celebrated the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and called upon Canberrans to reflect on their personal responsibility in combatting racism. “This year’s theme is ‘Youth standing up against Racism’, and it is an opportunity to reflect on the power that young people have in shifting narratives and creating change, both online and in person,” said ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell. “Over the past year, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought racism to the forefront of global conversation. In Australia it drew attention to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our justice system, and reignited conversations about racism and implicit bias more broadly.”
To view the ACTCOSS media release in full click here.
Diabetes management in Aboriginal communities webinar
The first webcast session of a four-part series of interprofessional webinars focusing on Diabetes management in an Aboriginal community will be held from 12:30–1:30 PM this Thursday 25 March 2021.
The webcast, Prevention and Control of Type-2 Diabetes in Aboriginal Communities: Changing Dietary, Activity and Lifestyle Patterns will explore evidence-based approaches and practical strategies for nutrition, exercise, lifestyle and behaviour changes to support the prevention and management of diabetes in Aboriginal people. Barriers and solutions to improving engagement with Aboriginal communities will also be discussed.
Diabetes is a complex condition that can impact people in different ways. It has a significant impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This webcast provides an overview of the prevalence of diabetes in the Aboriginal population, discusses risk factors for early diabetes detection and focuses on the key lifestyle behaviours for the prevention and management of diabetes. Key nutritional considerations relating to the use of whole foods, fibre, carbohydrates and how to shop on a budget will be discussed. Further to this, stress management, importance of sleep, exercise, flexibility and ways to reduce sedentary behaviour will be covered. The presenters will also discuss their local Aboriginal community group programs, including culturally safe practices.
For more information you can download an event flyer here and register here.
This morning NACCHO CEO Pat Turner joined a panel on ABC Radio National Breakfast to discuss how preparations are ramping up in earnest for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Many will get the jab as part of Phase 1B which begins on Monday 22 March 2021. At the coalface, health organisations are also busy tackling vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.
Yesterday afternoon NACCHO Deputy CEO Dr Dawn Casey also spoke on ABC radio about COVID-19. Along with human rights advocate and lawyer Teela Reid and public health expert Professor Fiona Stanley, Dr Casey spoke with Richard Glover on ABC Radio Sydney program Drive about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Reference was made to how programs run by Indigenous people work, but programs imposed on communities don’t. Professor Fiona Stanley said there is lots of evidence to show better outcomes are achieved when Aboriginal people control programs, saying “when you give First Nations’ people this power it works every time”.
In terms of ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were kept safe from COVID-19, Professor Stanley said local services understand the context in which their people are living, they know who and where their Elders are and are immediately able to implement the best preventative strategies for them. Only 0.1 per 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia have contracted COVID-19 compared to 1.1 per 1,000 for non-Indigenous Australians.
L-R: Dr Dawn Casey (NITV website), Teela Reid (National Indigenous Times), Professor Fiona Stanley (ABC News website).
Truth and justice commission announced
Victoria’s ‘truth-telling’ commission (launched earlier this week) has been owed for 233 years according to Victoria’s Deputy Premier, James Merlino who said “233 years of violence, dispossession and deprivation. 233 years of deliberate silence. We commit to telling the truth. We do so for the kids who never came home – and those who are still finding their way back. For those who were told they were not allowed to speak their own language, practice their own culture, know their own identity. For the families who lost loved ones in the massacres. For those who were made to feel like they didn’t belong to their own country. And for those who still feel this way. Today we commit to telling their truth.”
The Truth and Justice Commission is a shared commitment between the Victorian Government and the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, the state’s first and only democratically-elected body for Aboriginal people. Named after the Wemba Wemba/Wamba Wamba word for ‘truth’, the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission will formally begin its work in the coming months. Held independently from Government, and afforded the full power of a Royal Commission, it will mark the beginning of a conversation long overdue, and a commitment to change. It will compel us to confront what’s come before. To acknowledge that the pain in our past lives on in our present.
To view the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and Victoria State Government joint statement click hereand to view a related article in The Ageclick here.
Ms Atkinson, Ms Williams and Mr Merlino in Coranderrk for the announcement of the commission. Image source: The Age.
Final Call: COVID-19 in aged care facilities survey
Professor Lyn Gilbert and Adjunct Professor Alan Lilly have been commissioned by the Department of Health to undertake a national review of COVID-19 outbreaks in Australian Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs). RACF managers (or equivalent) are invited to complete a short online survey about the facility’s preparation for and, if an outbreak occurred, management of a COVID-19 outbreak.
The data will be collected and analysed by the University of Sydney. Survey responses will remain anonymous and no individual RACF will be identifiable. The feedback and analysis will be an invaluable contribution to the report and recommendations to the Department of Health.
The survey will be closing on 5:00 PMWednesday 17 March 2021.
If you haven’t completed the survey, please do take the time to share your thoughts and experiences with the review. It only takes 10-15 minutes. and can be accessed by clicking on this link.
Your input is critical to continuous improvement in the management of potential COVID-19 outbreaks in residential care.
Croakey journalist Melissa Sweet has written an overview of some of the key issues, including concerns that without proper funding and implementation commitments, the strategy will be “another worthy document which does not advance the health of Australians one iota”. Below is an excerpt from Melissa’s overview:
“OMG. The Federal Health Department has released a publication that finally utters the words so many have been waiting SO long to hear. The draft National Preventive Health Strategy cites a contributor saying that “climate change is likely to be the biggest challenge to health, wellbeing and economic prosperity”. The document goes on to note that human health is dependent on planetary health, and that environmental issues, such as extreme weather events and significant changes in climate systems, have had, and will continue to have, an impact on the health and wellbeing of all Australians.
“This is particularly true for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have close cultural, spiritual and social connections to the land. In order to prepare for future challenges and address the health of the planet, the impacts of climate change on physical and mental health need to be understood, especially through a health equity lens,” it says. But don’t get too excited. These words don’t come until page 40 and although climate change is mentioned a number of times throughout the document, the draft strategy does not convey a strong sense of urgency about the climate crisis and how it will undermine all other efforts in health prevention without urgent action.
To view overview in full click here and for further information about the National Preventive Health Strategy and how to make a submission click here.
Image source: Australian Government Department of Health.
Indigenous kids are losing sleep
New analysis has found that Indigenous Australian children suffer from sleep problems at higher rates than non-Indigenous children. Aboriginal children reported insomnia, severe daytime sleepiness and breathing difficulties while sleeping, researchers say. “Poor sleep can lead to health problems and lower levels of academic achievement,” according to Senior Research Fellow, James Cook University Yaqoot Fatima. “Indigenous children suffer from at higher rates of obesity, diabetes and respiratory problems than non-Indigenous children.” School attendance rates among Indigenous children are 10 per cent lower than non-Indigenous children, she said. “Understanding sleep health is very important,” Dr Fatima said.
To view the article 7 News article in full click here and to view a related article in The Conversation click here.
Image source: CRAICCHS website.
Media invalidates Indigenous experience of racism
Gunditjamara Elder Charmaine Clark has commented on the response by national mainstream media to a report tabled last week by the Victorian anti-vilification protections inquiry. She said “the media completely missed the point and instead we saw sensational headlines of Nazi Swastika banned or Nazi flags banned.” In the course of the Inquiry, Charmaine gave her personal testimony, representing the Victorian Indigenous community. Supported by organisations such as the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and Victorian Legal Aid Charmaine’s case mirrored other experiences of racial abuse and indifference that many Indigenous people experience throughout their lifetime.
Charmain said “One of the most persistent aspects of today’s discourse regarding racism in Australia, Charmaine said, is the very denial of its existence. Out of all the most sustained political campaigns operating in Australia, the political project of controlling and diminishing Indigenous human rights and dignity is by far the longest. It has cost us much, in lives and loss of access to country, high incarceration rates and alarming mental health and health statistics.”
“Our media choose to personify racists as those Nazi’s or Proud Boys, with the effect that all other forms of racial vilification are at best of lower importance and at worst – invalidated in the eyes of the public consuming this media. It highlights the systemic nature of how perceptions of racism are controlled, perceived and presented to the general public. This narrow definition of ‘racist’ paints a picture to the public and reduces the impact of our calls for action to address racism we uniquely experience.”
A new report from the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health has found institutional racism leads to a silencing of Indigenous knowledges, perspectives and cultural practices which are crucial to closing the gap in health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Published in Public Health Research and Practice, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute, the report was authored by several Indigenous leaders and noted the reluctance in health care structures to address systemic and institutional racism against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Lead author Dr Carmen Parter is a proud descendent of the Darumbal and Juru clans of the Birra Gubba Nation of Queensland. She also has South Sea Islander heritage and is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health. “Our paper gives voice to Indigenous communities who have consistently said that racism is a critical issue in the provision of health care, as is the incorporation of culture into the design of health care services,” said Dr Parter. “When an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person accesses a health care service, there is always a level of mistrust and fear. A lot of people forget that our health system was one of the many institutions involved in the Stolen Generations that took children from their families and communities — which still happens today. Those stories resonate through our communities.” Dr Parter highlights the importance for health care providers in discussing and addressing racism.
To view the Indigenous National Times article in full click here and to view the related SaxInstitute media release Indigenous leaders call for an end to racism in the health systemclick here.
Image source: Mayi Kuwayu The National Study of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing website.
Race conversations program developer recognised
Bundjalung and Kullilli woman Melissa Browning has been recognised at the national HESTA Impact Awards for her contribution to improving health equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The awards are a national celebration of health and community services professionals working to protect the future of the planet and its people.
Browning was a joint winner of the Individual Distinction Award for her work developing and implementing the Courageous Conversations About Race (CCAR) program at the Fold Coast Hospital and Health Service (GCHHS). Having a career in health spanning just short of two decades, Browning is one of the only Aboriginal women at GCHHS who sits in a senior role. She is the current Coordinator for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and has held that position for over a decade. Working in the health sector as long as she has, Browning has faced her fair share of adversity.
“I have often been called challenging. I like to reframe that and step away from the angry Blak woman trope,” she said. “I’m not angry, I’m passionate. I do get framed as the challenging Blak woman because I do want to make that change, make that difference for my people. Aboriginal women are constantly taking the brunt for our community, there are so many inspiring women that have gone before me that have inspired me to keep going in doing what I do. The reason I am doing this is for my people, for the future generations — that is what holds me.”
Browning’s CCAR program originates from the Us but she has worked to contextualise it to an Australian audience. The program aims to talk about racism in a safe space. “Talking about race and racism is always very hard, but I think … to move forward we can’t not have those conversations,” she said.
To view the full article in the National Indigenous Times click here.
Melissa Browning. Image source: National Indigenous Times.
Tooth decay rates fall
A trial of a children’s dental health program in a remote Queensland Indigenous community showed the value of simple health interventions in promoting overall health in Indigenous communities, researchers said. Dental health is a serious problem for some Indigenous communities, with Indigenous children in rural Australia recording up to three times the rate of tooth decay compared with other Australian children. Associate Professor Ratilal Lalloo from the University of Queensland School of Dentistry led the study to find out what effect a simple intervention could have.
“We wanted to test an intervention to reduce that burden – the idea was to take what we considered the main preventative strategies against tooth decay and see what effect that had on ongoing dental health,” he said. “Primary health care workers such as community nurses and Aboriginal health workers can be trained to do these treatments, making them even more cost-effective.” Dr Lalloo said researchers hoped the findings would lead to evidence-based policies and practices in preventing tooth decay in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.
To view the article in the Brisbane Timesclick here and to view a more detailed article about the research in UQ Newsclick here.
Image source: The Conversation.
Shifting Gears Summit
What would our health systems look like if consumers were in the driving seat – if consumer experiences and leadership were enabled to seamlessly transform health and social care to better serve their needs? In Australia we do have successful models that have arisen from genuine consumer co-design, such as the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.
A summit hosted by the Consumer’s Health Forum of Australia next week (17–19 March) starts off by asking speakers and participants why such reform is needed, and goes on to showcase success, and provide inspiration for future efforts. This is a virtual event with an international cast of speakers and participants.
It’s not too late to register for the Summit (and/or one of the two pre-summit masterclasses).
Health Consumers Qld is hosting a panel of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health leaders, including Ms Haylene Grogan, Dr Mark Wenitong, Associate Professor James Ward and Associate Professor Margie Danchin to answer questions from the community about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health consumers from across Queensland are invited to attend another Q&A session.
The Q&A session will take place from 9:30–11:00 AM on Monday 29 March 2021 by Zoom videoconference and “watch parties”. We hope that groups of people may come together to join the on-line session so those without internet access and those who would prefer to be in a group, can come together for a “watch party” .
Electronic prescriptions (or e-prescriptions) are being rolled out in stages across Australia after being used in Victoria during the pandemic. E-prescriptions have been common in countries such as the United States and Sweden for more than ten years. In Australia, a fully electronic paperless system has been planned for some time. Since the arrival of COVID-19, and a surge in the uptake of telehealth, the advantages of e-prescriptions have become compelling. To read more about what e-prescriptions are, how they work, their benefits and what they mean for paper prescriptions click here.
Image source: Australian Pharmacist.
Electronic prescription roll out expanded
The big news in digital health in recent weeks has been the expansion of Australia’s roll out of electronic prescriptions to metropolitan Sydney, following the fast-track implementation in metropolitan Melbourne and then the rest of Victoria as a weapon in that state’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. There was also some rare movement in the secure messaging arena, with a number of clinical information system vendors and secure messaging services having successfully completed the implementation of new interoperability standards that will hopefully allow clinicians and healthcare organisations to more easily exchange clinical information electronically. The road to secure messaging interoperability has been a tortuous one to say the least, but movement does seem to be occurring. At least 19 separate systems have successfully fulfilled the Australian Digital Health Agency’s requirements, with the vendors now getting ready to release the capability in their next versions. It is expected these will start to roll out over the next few months.
Lack of physical activity requires national strategy
A new report finding Australians are not spending enough time being physically active highlights the need for action on a national, long-term preventive health strategy, according to AMA President, Dr Omar Khorshid. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report found that the majority of Australians of all ages are not meeting the minimum levels of physical activity required for health benefits, and are exceeding recommended limits on sedentary behaviour.
The AMA is working with the Federal Government on its proposed long-term national preventive health strategy, which was first announced by Health Minister Greg Hunt in a video message to the 2019 AMA National Conference almost 18 months ago. Dr Khorshis said “As a nation, we spend woefully too little on preventive health – only about 2 per cent of the overall health budget. A properly resourced preventive health strategy, including national public education campaigns on issues such as smoking and obesity, is vital to helping Australians improve their lifestyles and quality of life.”
To view the AMA’s media release regarding the physical activity report click here.
Image source: The Conversation.
KAMS CEO appointed to WA FHRI Fund Advisory Council
The McGowan Government has today announced the make-up of the Advisory Council of WA’s Future Health Research and Innovation (FHRI) Fund. The FHRI Fund was the centerpiece of the State Government’s commitment to drive research and innovation in WA by providing the State’s health and medical researchers and innovators with a secure and ongoing source of funding. Vicki O’Donnell, CEO, Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Service Ltd (KAMS), is one of seven eminent Western Australians appointed to the Advisory Council to provide high-level advice to the Health Minister and the Department of Health.
To view the Government of Western Australia’s media release click here.
Vicki O’Donnell, CEO KAMS. Image source: ABC News.
PLUM and HATS help save kids hearing
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families are being encouraged to use an Australian Government toolkit to ensure young children are meeting their milestones for hearing and speaking. The rates of hearing loss and ear disease for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are significantly higher than for the non-Indigenous population. Between 2018–19 and 2022–23, almost $104.6 million will be provided for ear health initiatives to reduce the number of Indigenous Australians suffering avoidable hearing loss, and give Indigenous children a better start to education.
The Parent-evaluated Listening and Understanding Measure (PLUM) and the Hearing and Talking Scale (HATS) have been developed by Hearing Australia in collaboration with Aboriginal health and early education services. As part of a $21.2 million package of funding over five years from 2020–21 to advance hearing health in Australia, the 2020–21 Budget includes an additional $5 million to support early identification of hearing and speech difficulties for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and embed the use of PLUM and HATS Australia-wide.
To view the Department of Health’s media release click here.
Image source: The Wire website.
Illawarra Aboriginal Corporation receives research grant
The University of Wollongong (UOW) had announced the recipients of the Community Engagement Grants Scheme (CEGS). CEGS is uniquely focused on addressing the challenges faced by communities and taking action to create real and measurable outcomes. The CEGS projects are dedicated to serving communities on a range of issues that matter in the real world. Some areas of focus are health and wellbeing, disability and social services, culture and multiculturalism, Indigenous and local history and communities.
This year, the University awarded grants to three innovative community partners and UOW academics to support their research and outreach projects. Among the recipients is the Illawarra Aboriginal Corporation and senior Aboriginal researcher and anthropologist, Professor Kathleen Clapham. Their project, titled ‘Amplifying the voices of Aboriginal women through culture and networking in an age of COVID19’ aims to address women’s isolation, restore networks, and nurture the exchange of Aboriginal knowledge and traditional practices.
To view the University of Wollongong’s media release click here.
Professor Kathleen Clapham, UOW. Image source: UOW website.
LGBQTISB suicide prevention
Indigenous LGBQTISB people deal with additional societal challenges, ones that can regularly intersect and contribute to the heightened development of depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug problems, and a heightened risk of suicide and suicidal behaviour. Dameyon Bonson, an Indigenous gay male from the NT and recognised as Indigenous suicide prevention subject matter expert, specifically in Indigenous LGBQTI+ suicide, will be presenting ‘An introduction to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous Australian) LGBQTISB suicide prevention’ from 11.00 am to 12.00 pm (ACST) on Tuesday 10 November 2020.
For more information about the event and to register click here.
Dead quiet to award winner in only two years
“The first year we were almost dead quiet … word of mouth and occupational health is what grew us, and now we’ve been able to really branch into Indigenous health and Closing the Gap initiatives,” said Practice Manager Olivia Tassone. At just 22-years-old, Tassone is also a part-owner of the company, along with former footballed Des Headland and others. Being privately owned gives Spartan First a flexibility that other companies in the same space don’t have. “One of the benefits of being a being a private business is we don’t really have a lot of red tape to jump over. If we want to start making a change, then we can just do it,” Tassone said.
Spartan Practice Manager Olivia Tassone. Image source: National Indigenous Times website.
Tackling Indigenous Smoking with Prof Tom Calma
Tobacco smoking is the most preventable cause of ill health and early death among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is responsible for 23 per cent of the gap in health burden between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.
The Tackling Indigenous Smoking (TIS) program aims to improve life expectancy among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by reducing tobacco use.
Professor Tom Calma, National Coordinator, leads the TIS program which has been running since 2010. Under the program local organisations design and run activities that focus on reducing smoking rates, and supports people to never start smoking. Activities are:
This new plain language publication provides information for a wider (non-academic) audience and incorporates many visual elements.
The Summary is useful for health workers and those studying in the field as a quick source of general information. It provides key information regarding the health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the following topics:
The Summary is available online and in hardcopy format. Please contact HealthInfoNet by email if you wish to order a hardcopy of this Summary. Other reviews and plain language summaries are available here.
Here are the key facts
Please note in an earlier version sent out 7.00 am June 15 a computer error dropped off the last word in many sentences : these are new fixed
In 2019, the estimated Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population was 847,190.
In 2019, NSW had the highest number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (the estimated population was 281,107 people, 33% of the total Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population).
In 2019, NT had the highest proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in its population, with 32% of the NT population identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders
In 2016, around 37% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lived in major cities
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is much younger than the non-Indigenous population.
Births and pregnancy outcomes
In 2018, there were 21,928 births registered in Australia with one or both parents identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander (7% of all births registered).
In 2018, the median age for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers was 26.0 years.
In 2018, total fertility rates were 2,371 births per 1,000 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
In 2017, the average birthweight of babies born to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers was 3,202 grams
The proportion of low birthweight babies born to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers between 2007 and 2017 remained steady at around 13%.
For 2018, the age-standardised death rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in NSW, Qld, WA, SA and the NT was 1 per 1,000.
Between 1998 and 2015, there was a 15% reduction in the death rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in NSW, Qld, WA, SA and the NT.
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people born 2015-2017, life expectancy was estimated to be 6 years for males and 75.6 years for females, around 8-9 years less than the estimates for non-Indigenous males and females.
In 2018, the median age at death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in NSW, Qld, WA, SA and the NT was 2 years; this was an increase from 55.8 years in 2008.
Between 1998 and 2015, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infant mortality rate has more than halved (from 5 to 6.3 per 1,000).
In 2018, the leading causes of death among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in NSW, Qld, WA, SA and the NT were ischaemic heart disease (IHD), diabetes, chronic lower respiratory diseases and lung and related cancers.
For 2012-2017 the maternal mortality ratio for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women was 27 deaths per 100,000 women who gave birth.
For 1998-2015, in NSW, Qld, WA, SA and the NT there was a 32% decline in the death rate from avoidable causes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 0-74 years
In 2017-18, 9% of all hospital separations were for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In 2017-18, the age-adjusted separation rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was 2.6 times higher than for non-Indigenous people.
In 2017-18, the main cause of hospitalisation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was for ‘factors influencing health status and contact with health services’ (mostly for care involving dialysis), responsible for 49% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander seperations.
In 2017-18, the age-standardised rate of overall potentially preventable hospitalisations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was 80 per 1,000 (38 per 1,000 for chronic conditions and 13 per 1,000 for vaccine-preventable conditions).
Selected health conditions
In 2018-19, around 15% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reported having cardiovascular disease (CVD).
In 2018-19, nearly one quarter (23%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults were found to have high blood pressure.
For 2013-2017, in Qld, WA, SA and the NT combined, there were 1,043 new rheumatic heart disease diagnoses among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, a crude rate of 50 per 100,000.
In 2017-18, there 14,945 hospital separations for CVD among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, representing 5.4% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander hospital separations (excluding dialysis).
In 2018, ischaemic heart disease (IHD) was the leading specific cause of death of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in NSW, Qld, WA, SA and the NT
In 2018-19, 1% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reported having cancer (males 1.2%, females 1.1%).
For 2010-2014, the most common cancers diagnosed among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in NSW, Vic, Qld, WA and the NT were lung cancer and breast (females) cancer.
Survival rates indicate that of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in NSW, Vic, Qld, WA, and the NT who were diagnosed with cancer between 2007 and 2014, 50% had a chance of surviving five years after diagnosis
In 2016-17, there 8,447 hospital separations for neoplasms2 among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
For 2013-2017, the age-standardised mortality rate due to cancer of any type was 238 per 100,000, an increase of 5% when compared with a rate of 227 per 100,000 in 2010-2014.
In 2018-19, 8% of Aboriginal people and 7.9% of Torres Strait Islander people reported having diabetes.
In 2015-16, there were around 2,300 hospitalisations with a principal diagnosis of type 2 diabetes among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
In 2018, diabetes was the second leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The death rate for diabetes decreased by 0% between 2009-2013 and 2014-2018.
Some data sources use term ‘neoplasm’ to describe conditions associated with abnormal growth of new tissue, commonly referred to as a Neoplasms can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) .
Social and emotional wellbeing
In 2018-19, 31% of Aboriginal and 23% of Torres Strait Islander respondents aged 18 years and over reported high or very high levels of psychological distress
In 2014-15, 68% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over and 67% of children aged 4-14 years experienced at least one significant stressor in the previous 12 months
In 2012-13, 91% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reported on feelings of calmness and peacefulness, happiness, fullness of life and energy either some, most, or all of the time.
In 2014-15, more than half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over reported an overall life satisfaction rating of at least 8 out of 10.
In 2018-19, 25% of Aboriginal and 17% of Torres Strait Islander people, aged two years and over, reported having a mental and/or behavioural conditions
In 2018-19, anxiety was the most common mental or behavioural condition reported (17%), followed by depression (13%).
In 2017-18, there were 21,940 hospital separations with a principal diagnosis of International Classification of Diseases (ICD) ‘mental and behavioural disorders’ identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander
In 2018, 169 (129 males and 40 females) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in NSW, Qld, WA, SA, and the NT died from intentional self-harm (suicide).
Between 2009-2013 and 2014-2018, the NT was the only jurisdiction to record a decrease in intentional self-harm (suicide) death rates.
In 2018-19, 8% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Aboriginal people 1.9%; Torres Strait Islander people 0.4%) reported kidney disease as a long-term health condition.
For 2014-2018, after age-adjustment, the notification rate of end-stage renal disease was 3 times higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than for non-Indigenous people.
In 2017-18, ‘care involving dialysis’ was the most common reason for hospitalisation among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In 2018, 310 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people commenced dialysis and 49 were the recipients of new kidneys.
For 2013-2017, the age-adjusted death rate from kidney disease was 21 per 100,000 (NT: 47 per 100,000; WA: 38 per 100,000) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in NSW, Qld, WA, SA and NT
In 2018, the most common causes of death among the 217 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were receiving dialysis was CVD (64 deaths) and withdrawal from treatment (51 deaths).
Injury, including family violence
In 2012-13, 5% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reported having a long-term condition caused by injury.
In 2018-19, 16% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over had experienced physical harm or threatened physical harm at least once in the last 12 months.
In 2016-17, the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander hospitalised injury was higher for males (44 per 1,000) than females (39 per 1,000).
In 2017-18, 20% of injury-related hospitalisations among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were for assault.
In 2018, intentional self-harm was the leading specific cause of injury deaths for NSW, Qld, SA, WA, and NT (5.3% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths).
In 2018-19, 29% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reported having a long-term respiratory condition .
In 2018-19, 16% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reported having asthma.
In 2014-15, crude hospitalisation rates were highest for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people presenting with influenza and pneumonia (7.4 per 1,000), followed by COPD (5.3 per 1,000), acute upper respiratory infections (3.8 per 1,000) and asthma (2.9 per 1,000).
In 2018, chronic lower respiratory disease was the third highest cause of death overall for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in NSW, Qld, WA, SA and the NT
In 2018-19, eye and sight problems were reported by 38% of Aboriginal people and 40% of Torres Strait Islander people.
In 2018-19, eye and sight problems were reported by 32% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males and by 43% of females.
In 2018-19, the most common eye conditions reported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were hyperopia (long sightedness: 22%), myopia (short sightedness: 16%), other diseases of the eye and adnexa (8.7%), cataract (1.4%), blindness (0.9%) and glaucoma (0.5%).
In 2014-15, 13% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, aged 4-14 years, were reported to have eye or sight problems.
In 2018, 144 cases of trachoma were detected among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in at-risk communities in Qld, WA, SA and the NT
For 2015-17, 62% of hospitalisations for diseases of the eye (8,274) among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were for disorders of the lens (5,092) (mainly cataracts).
Ear health and hearing
In 2018-19, 14% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reported having a long-term ear and/or hearing problem
In 2018-19, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0-14 years, the prevalence of otitis media (OM) was 6% and of partial or complete deafness was 3.8%.
In 2017-18, the age-adjusted hospitalisation rate for ear conditions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was 1 per 1,000 population.
In 2014-15, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 4-14 years with reported tooth or gum problems was 34%, a decrease from 39% in 2008.
In 2012-2014, 61% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 5-10 years had experienced tooth decay in their baby teeth, and 36% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 6-14 years had experienced tooth decay in their permanent teeth.
In 2016-17, there were 3,418 potentially preventable hospitalisations for dental conditions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander The age-standardised rate of hospitalisation was 4.6 per 1,000.
In 2018-19, 27% of Aboriginal and 24% of Torres Strait Islander people reported having a disability or restrictive long-term health
In 2018-19, 2% of Aboriginal and 8.3% of Torres Strait Islander people reported a profound or severe core activity limitation.
In 2016, 7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a profound or severe disability reported a need for assistance.
In 2017-18, 9% of disability service users were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with most aged under 50 years (82%).
In 2017-18, the primary disability groups accessing services were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a psychiatric condition (24%), intellectual disability (23%) and physical disability (20%).
In 2017-18, 2,524 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander National Disability Agreement service users transitioned to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
In 2017, there were 7,015 notifications for chlamydia for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, accounting for 7% of the notifications in Australia
During 2013-2017, there was a 9% and 9.8% decline in chlamydia notification rates among males and females (respectively).
In 2017, there were 4,119 gonorrhoea notifications for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, accounting for 15% of the notifications in Australia.
In 2017, there were 779 syphilis notifications for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounting for 18% of the notifications in Australia.
In 2017, Qld (45%) and the NT (35%) accounted for 80% of the syphilis notifications from all jurisdictions.
In 2018, there were 34 cases of newly diagnosed human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia .
In 2017, there were 1,201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people diagnosed with hepatitis C (HCV) in Australia
In 2017, there were 151 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people diagnosed with hepatitis B (HBV) in Australia
For 2013-2017 there was a 37% decline in the HBV notification rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
For 2011-2015, 1,152 (14%) of the 8,316 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) were identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait people .
For 2011-2015, there were 26 deaths attributed to IPD with 11 of the 26 deaths (42%) in the 50 years and over age-group.
For 2011-2015, 101 (10%) of the 966 notified cases of meningococcal disease were identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
For 2006-2015, the incidence rate of meningococcal serogroup B was 8 per 100,000, with the age- specific rate highest in infants less than 12 months of age (33 per 100,000).
In 2015, of the 1,255 notifications of TB in Australia, 27 (2.2%) were identified as Aboriginal and seven (0.6%) as Torres Strait Islander people
For 2011-2015, there were 16 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people diagnosed with invasive Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) in Australia
Between 2007-2010 and 2011-2015 notification rates for Hib decreased by around 67%.
In 2018-19, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reporting a disease of the skin and subcutaneous tissue was 2% (males 2.4% and females 4.0%).
” Getting enough healthy food at all times is not something many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities can take for granted.
COVID-19 has exposed a decades-old issue that contributes significantly to the health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians.
Now is the time to support communities during this pandemic and to increase future resilience.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has a silver lining it is how this experience makes us think twice about what we want ‘normal’ times to look like. “
Dr Megan Ferguson is a Senior Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition at The University of Queensland. She manages a research program in partnership with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations that seeks to improve food security. See full story Part 1 below
” Charging high prices because people aren’t in a position to challenge it (or shop elsewhere) is another key reason why prices are high. Its called price gouging, and remains a very real problem in the NT.
There are ethical ramifications on food security for charging high prices. Like everyone the world over, shopping patterns are influenced by cost. If healthy products are expensive to buy, shoppers will choose the cheaper, less healthy product. A pie instead of a meat and vegetables for example or takeaway fried chicken instead of cooking at home with fresh produce.
The incidence of chronic disease in Indigenous populations is in large part due to the food availability and the prices in community.
Therefore the impact the store pricing has on community health is significant. Read more ”
” Indigenous Australians suffer a disproportionate burden of preventable chronic disease compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts – much of it diet-related.
Increasing fruit and vegetable intakes and reducing sugar-sweetened soft-drink consumption can reduce the risk of preventable chronic disease.
There is evidence from some general population studies that subsidising healthier foods can modify dietary behaviour. There is little such evidence relating specifically to socio-economically disadvantaged populations, even though dietary behaviour in such populations is arguably more likely to be susceptible to such interventions.
This study aims to assess the impact and cost-effectiveness of a price discount intervention with or without an in-store nutrition education intervention on purchases of fruit, vegetables, water and diet soft-drinks among remote Indigenous communities. ”
Healthinfonet have just released the Summary of #nutrition among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This publication provides key information on food, diet and #nutritionalhealth among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.
The true prevalence could be twice as high. Food insecurity is caused by a lack of food availability due at times to precarious supply, and a lack of food affordability, resulting from those with the lowest incomes paying the highest food prices in our nation.
Limited access to manufacturer deals and buying power, freight costs, challenging logistics, high operational and maintenance costs and supply to a small population are amongst the factors impacting on the cost of food. That was in ‘normal’ times – the times that led to this disproportionate level of co-morbidity.
The COVID-19 response travel restrictions and increased government allowances have increased demand on community stores, already feeling the squeeze on supply, due to the flow-on effects of major supermarket purchasing elsewhere.
Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt recently created the Food Security Working Group to closely monitor issues specific to remote and regional Australia. Emergency food relief has been provided to communities, a necessity when there are abnormal pressures on the system.
This will not solve the problem though, that requires a systematic approach from government. We anticipate the Food Security Working Group will succeed in quarantining, what in the scheme of things is such a small volume of the nation’s food supply, to ensure sustainable food availability in remote stores.
But there has been no relief on the food affordability front. Remote community residents receiving government allowances have shared the benefits of the national economic package.
However, they continue to face disproportionately high food prices compared to those living in regional centres – on average 60% for healthy food in the Northern Territory and other remote jurisdictions. This comes at the same time as access to town supermarkets with their lower food prices, has been restricted.
Being able to purchase healthy food at regional centre prices will go a long way to supporting people in remote communities now. We need to address ongoing food price inequity to improve food security and diet quality, and ultimately reduce disease burden to ensure remote communities recover and build resilience.
It is time for real action on food price equity and food affordability. This pandemic is making us think deeply about what sort of society we want beyond this current crisis. Here is our opportunity to shape it. Healthy food price equity is a new normal we would like to see.
Dr Megan Ferguson is a Senior Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition at The University of Queensland. She manages a research program in partnership with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations that seeks to improve food security.
More importantly though, how is it possible that one store can charge almost $25 more for the same basket of products? Obviously, it’s because the prices are higher. The trickier and more important question to answer is why?
Lets just break it down a little, and look at chicken prices as an example of how prices influence food security.
Barunga store charges $9.40 for 2kg of Hazledene chicken cuts and Beswick store (which is run by the Commonwealth entity Outback Stores) charges $16.80. Its only 25km down the road! Another community store charges $24.60 for the same product.
Why the price difference?
There are three reasons why the prices are different between stores: rebates, ethics and freight.
A rebate is money paid by the supplier to store management stock their products. Our research shows rebates can range between 1.5 and 25%. Rebates are calculated on each product and the higher the rebate, the more expensive the product becomes. Coke and tobacco reap the highest rebates in community stores. Rebates are given to the store management groups, and not the stores themselves.
AIG does not accept rebates because we believe it is unethical and drives up prices in the store which further disadvantages the vulnerable and threatens food security.
Usually listed as the primary reason for high prices in community stores, but in reality, has a far lesser impact on the actual prices of products in the store.
Freight is the cost of getting the products from the supplier to the store. If a store is very remote, then the freight is obviously going to be more expensive. Freight should be cheaper for the larger management groups because they order in bulk which reduces the actual freight costs further.
AIG is a small store management group and if we can have low prices while paying freight, it is proof that freight is not as expensive as people are led to believe.
Keep comparing food prices
We want to disrupt how community stores are managed in the NT through creating transparency about prices in stores. Its hard for people in remote communities to understand the situation they are in if they can’t compare prices in their stores to other communities.
AIG has created online shopping for the Barunga and Timber Creek communities which is a great service, but equally important is being able to provide transparency the prices we charge so others can compare to the prices in their stores. We don’t accept rebates from suppliers, and we don’t make a profit on fruit and vegetables. This is how our prices are low. If we can do it, other stores can do the same.
” A study of intake of six remote Aboriginal communities, based on store turnover, found that intake of energy, fat and sugar was excessive, with fatty meats making the largest contribution to fat intake.
Compared with national data, intake of sweet and carbonated beverages and sugar was much higher in these communities, with the proportion of energy derived from refined sugars approximately four times the recommended intake.
Recent evidence from Mexico indicates that implementing health-related taxes on sugary drinks and on ‘junk’ food can decrease purchase of these foods and drinks.
A recent Australian study predicted that increasing the price of sugary drinks by 20% could reduce consumption by 12.6%.
Revenue raised by such a measure could be directed to an evaluation of effectiveness and in the longer term be used to subsidise and market healthy food choices as well as promotion of physical activity.
It is imperative that all of these interventions to promote healthy eating should have community-ownership and not undermine the cultural importance of family social events, the role of Elders, or traditional preferences for some food.
Food supply in Indigenous communities needs to ensure healthy, good quality foods are available at affordable prices.”
Extract from NACCHO Network Submission to theSelect Committee’s Obesity Epidemic in Australia Inquiry.
Several governments around the world have adopted taxes on sugary drinks in recent years. The evidence is clear: they work.
Last year, a summary of 17 studies found health taxes on sugary drinks implemented in Berkeley and other places in the United States, Mexico, Chile, France and Spain reduced both purchases and consumption of sugary drinks.
Reliable evidence from around the world tells us a 10% tax reduces sugary drink intakes by around 10%.
The United Kingdom soft drink tax has also been making headlines recently. Since its introduction, the amount of sugar in drinks has decreased by almost 30%, and six out of ten leading drink companies have dropped the sugar content of more than 50% of their drinks.
In Australia, modelling studies have shown a 20% health tax on sugary drinks is likely to save almost A$2 billion in healthcare costs over the lifetime of the population by preventing diet-related diseases like diabetes, heart disease and several cancers.
This is over and above the cost benefits of preventing dental health issues linked to consumption of sugary drinks.
Most of the health benefits (nearly 50%) would occur among those living in the lowest socioeconomic circumstances.
Myth 1: Sugary drink taxes unfairly disadvantage the poor
It’s true people on lower incomes would feel the pinch from higher prices on sugary drinks. A 20% tax on sugary drinks in Australia would cost people from low socioeconomic households about A$35 extra per year. But this is just A$4 higher than the cost to the wealthiest households.
Importantly, poorer households are likely to get the biggest health benefits and long-term health care savings.
What’s more, the money raised from the tax could be targeted towards reducing health inequalities.
In Australia, job losses from such a tax are likely to be minimal. The total demand for drinks by Australian manufacturers is unlikely to change substantially because consumers would likely switch from sugary drinks to other product lines, such as bottled water and artificially sweetened drinks.
Despite industry protestations, an Australian tax would have minimal impact on sugar farmers. This is because 80% of our locally grown sugar is exported. Only a small amount of Australian sugar goes to sugary drinks, and the expected 1% drop in demand would be traded elsewhere.
Myth 3: People don’t support health taxes on sugary drinks
There is widespread support for a tax on sugary drinks from major health and consumer groups in Australia.
In addition, a national survey conducted in 2017 showed 77% of Australians supported a tax on sugary drinks, if the proceeds were used to fund obesity prevention.
Myth 4: People will just swap to other unhealthy products, so a tax is useless
Taxes, or levies, can be designed to avoid substitution to unhealthy products by covering a broad range of sugary drink options, including soft drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks.
There is also evidence that shows people switch to water in response to sugary drinks taxes.
Myth 5: There’s no evidence sugary drink taxes reduce obesity or diabetes
Because of the multiple drivers of obesity, it’s difficult to isolate the impact of a single measure. Indeed, we need a comprehensive policy approach to address the problem. That’s why Dr Muecke is calling for a tax on sugary drinks alongside improved food labelling and marketing regulations.
Towards better food policies
The Morrison government has previously and repeatedly rejected pushes for a tax on sugary drinks.
But Australian governments are currently developing a National Obesity Strategy, making it the ideal time to revisit this issue.
We need to stop letting myths get in the way of evidence-backed health policies.
Let’s listen to Dr Muecke – he who knows all too well the devastating effects of products packed full of sugar.
“ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia continue to face significant disadvantage across a range of domains relevant to their rights and wellbeing, including in relation to health and education outcomes, discrimination, exposure to family violence, and overrepresentation in child protection and youth justice systems.
Most recommendations made throughout this report apply to all children living in Australia, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
However, given the significant disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, this chapter (12 ) contains recommendations which are specific to their circumstances.”
Extract from Australia’s first Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell who today launched her final report – one of the most comprehensive assessments of children’s rights ever produced in Australia.
See Pages 256 to 271 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children or read Health extract below
The report makes clear that the mental health of Australian children is not being cared for sufficiently and that Governments must do more to ensure children’s wellbeing.
Commissioner Mitchell said: “Not only do children require better access to mental health services, but they also need earlier intervention and higher quality care.”
The report calls on the Federal Government to develop a National Plan for Child Wellbeing and to appoint a Cabinet level Minister with responsibility for children’s issues at the national level.
National data shows one in seven children aged four to 17 were diagnosed with mental health disorders in a 12-month period, and rates of suicide and self-harm are increasing.
Suicide was the leading cause of death for children aged five to 17 in 2017, and Indigenous children accounted for almost 20% of all child suicides. There were 35,997 hospital admissions for self-harm in the ten years to 2017.
Other urgent concerns highlighted in the report include that, from 2013 to 2017 there was a 27% increase in reported substantiations of child abuse and neglect. The number of children in out-of- home care has increased by 18% over the last five years. Also, approximately 17% of children under the age of 15 live in poverty.
Commissioner Mitchell said: “The increase in neglect and abuse of children is a particularly worrying trend, as is the increase in children living in out of home care. We must do better.”
The report shows children in vulnerable situations suffer most through a lack of government focus. This includes Indigenous children, children with a disability, those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and LGBTI children.
Commissioner Mitchell said: “There is a gap between the rights we have promised vulnerable children and how those rights are implemented. It is vital that we address the gap in order to better protect children’s rights.”
Attorney General Christian Porter tabled the report in Parliament on Thursday, 6 February.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the oldest civilisation on earth, extending back over 65,000 years. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are vastly diverse in culture, language and in spiritual beliefs.[i] At the time of colonisation, there were over 500 separate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations, over 250 languages spoken, and 800 dialectical varieties.[ii]
In its Concluding Observations (2019), the Committee on the Rights of the Child urged the Australian Government to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their communities are meaningfully involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of policies concerning them.[iii]
The disparity in health status between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their non-Indigenous counterparts remains a crucial human rights issue within Australia.[iv] This is despite the investment in Closing the Gap—a national strategy to reduce health and related inequalities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, which has been in place since 2008.
In its Concluding Observations (2019), the Committee on the Rights of the Child urged the Australian Government to promptly address the disparities in the health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.[v]
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reported in 2018 that there are major gaps in data on important health issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.[vi] This includes culturally-appropriate data that measures wellbeing, treatment of mental health conditions, sexual health (including use of contraception and sexual health services), and use of primary health care services.[vii]
It pointed out that data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 10–14 years is limited, compared to those aged 15–19 and 20–24, as both the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Health Survey 2012–13 and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey 2014–15 were more focused on adults.[viii]
In 2018–19, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS) has, for the first time, included up to two child members of each selected household aged 0 to 17.[ix] The results from NATSIHS 2018–19 will be available in late 2019.[x] The inclusion of those aged 0 to 17 is a welcome addition.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) also welcomes Mayi Kuwayu: The National Study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing and hopes that it will collect data on children aged 0–17.[xi]
Since the Closing the Gap target baseline was set in 2008, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child mortality rates have declined by 10%.[xii]
However, the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and non-Indigenous children has not narrowed, because the non-Indigenous rate has declined at a faster rate.[xiii] It is for this reason that measuring the gap is not always helpful.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants are three times as likely as non-Indigenous infants to die between one and six months of age, and twice as likely to die for all other age categories except for one day to one week old, where the risks are equivalent.[xiv]
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 2.1 times more likely to die before their fifth birthday compared to their non-Indigenous peers.[xv]
Ear disease is a significant health issue facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0–14 are 2.9 times more likely to have long-term ear or hearing problems compared with non-Indigenous children.[xvi]
Limited access to primary health care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children can result in delayed diagnosis, treatment and management of health conditions.
Long-term ear or hearing problems are linked to delays in speech and language development.[xvii] These can have lasting impacts on educational and workforce outcomes.
The AIHW pointed out in its report on Australia’s Health 2018 that there is no national statistical profile of ear disease and associated hearing loss for Aboriginal and Torres Strait children based on diagnostic assessment. It argued that, without good-quality surveillance, it is difficult to understand the size and key determinants associated with the hearing problem.[xviii]
The most recent data available from the AIHW shows that in 2012–13, 30% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 2–14 were overweight or obese, compared with 25% of their non-Indigenous counterparts.[xix]
One in five (20%) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 2–14 were overweight and one in ten (10%) were obese. At age 15–17, 35% were overweight or obese. About one in five (21%) were overweight, while about one in seven (14%) were obese.[xx]
Of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys aged 2–14, 18% were overweight and 10% were obese. At age 15–17, 21% were overweight and 17% were obese. Among girls aged 2–14 and those aged 15–17, 21% were overweight and 11% were obese.[xxi]
Children with obesity are more likely to be obese as adults and have an ‘increased risk of developing both short and long-term health conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease’.[xxii]
The likelihood of probable serious mental illness has been found to be consistently higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children compared to their non-Indigenous peers.[xxiii]
National Coronial Information System data show that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 4–17 accounted for 19.2% of all child deaths due to suicide between 2007–15.[xxiv] Specifically, there were:
The AIHW collects hospital data on intentional self-harm. Children who engage in intentional self-harm, with or without suicidal intent, often only experience hospitalisation because they cannot manage their injury without medical intervention. Approximately 8% of hospitalisations for intentional self-harm between 2007–08 and 2016–17 involved Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.[xxvi] Of the 2,928 hospitalisations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, 17 (<1%) were for children aged 3–9, 859 (29%) were for children aged 3–14 and 2,052 (70%) were for children aged 15–17.[xxvii]
In its Concluding Observations (2019), the Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the Australian Government to prioritise mental health service delivery to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, including addressing the underlying causes of children’s suicide and poor mental health.[xxviii]
The fertility rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teenagers are approximately 5.8 times the rate for non-Indigenous teenagers (52 per 1,000 females compared to nine per 1,000 females).[xxix]
The Committee on the Rights of the Child in its Concluding Observations (2019) specifically called for the Australian Government to strengthen its measures to prevent teenage pregnancies among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls, including by providing culturally sensitive and confidential medical advice and services.[xxx]
The levels of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in children, especially those from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, are particularly concerning. The rates of infection within these communities are recognised as being the highest of any identifiable population in Australia.[xxxi]
For example, 2016 data from the Northern Territory, shows there were 161 notified cases of chlamydia in Aboriginal children under 16 years compared to three cases in non-Indigenous children; 186 notified cases of gonorrhoea in Aboriginal children under 16 years compared to one case in a non-Indigenous child; 26 notified cases of syphilis in Aboriginal children under 16 years with no notified cases for non-Indigenous children; and 240 notified cases of trichomoniasis in Aboriginal children under 16 years with no notified cases for non-Indigenous children.[xxxii]
Aboriginal Medical Services play a crucial role in providing health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Research has suggested that ‘one of the most productive ways forward with regards to improving knowledge and increasing safe sex practice among young Aboriginal people is through community-controlled organisations’.[xxxiii]
[iii] United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations on the Combined Fifth and Sixth Periodic Reports of Australia, 82nd Sess, UN Doc CRC/C/AUS/CO/5-6 (30 September 2019) para 46(a).
[iv] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Trends in Indigenous Mortality and Life Expectancy2001–2015 (Report, 1 December 2017) vii.
[v] United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations on the Combined Fifth and Sixth Periodic Reports of Australia, 82nd Sess, UN Doc CRC/C/AUS/CO/5-6 (30 September 2019) para 36(a).
[vi] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescent and youth health and wellbeing 2018 (Report, 2018) xii.
[vii] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescent and youth health and wellbeing 2018 (Report, 2018) xii.
[viii] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescent and youth health and wellbeing 2018 (Report, 2018) 6.
[ix] Australian Bureau of Statistics, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (2018) <www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/D3310114.nsf/Home/Survey+Participant+Information+-+National+Aboriginal+and+Torres+Strait+Islander+Health+Survey>.
[x] Australian Bureau of Statistics, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (2018) <www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/D3310114.nsf/Home/Survey+Participant+Information+-+National+Aboriginal+and+Torres+Strait+Islander+Health+Survey>.
[xx] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Overweight and obesity: an interactive insight: A web report (19 July 2019) <www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/behaviours-risk-factors/overweight-obesity/overview>.
[xxi] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Overweight and obesity: an interactive insight: A web report (19 July 2019) <www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/behaviours-risk-factors/overweight-obesity/overview>.
[xxii] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Children Who are Overweight or Obese (2009) 1 <www.ausstats.abs.gov.au/ausstats/subscriber.nsf/LookupAttach/4102.0Publication24.09.093/$File/41020_Childhoodobesity.pdf>.
[xxiv] National Coronial Information System. Report prepared for the National Children’s Commissioner on Intentional Self-Harm Fatalities of Persons under 18 in Australia 2007–2015. Report prepared on 07/02/2018.
[xxv] National Coronial Information System. Report prepared for the National Children’s Commissioner on Intentional Self-Harm Fatalities of Persons under 18 in Australia 2007–2015. Report prepared on 07/02/2018.
[xxvi] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Data request Specification on self-harm prepared for the Australian Human Rights Commission 2007-2008 to 2016-17 (2018).
[xxvii] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Data request Specification on self-harm prepared for the Australian Human Rights Commission 2007-2008 to 2016-17 (2018).
[xxviii] United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations on the Combined Fifth and Sixth Periodic Reports of Australia, 82nd Sess, UN Doc CRC/C/AUS/CO/5-6 (30 September 2019) para 38(a), (b).
[xxix] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Children’s Headline Indicators: Teenage Births (2018) <www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/childrens-headline-indicators/contents/indicator-14>.
[xxx] United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations on the Combined Fifth and Sixth Periodic Reports of Australia, 82nd Sess, UN Doc CRC/C/AUS/CO/5-6 (30 September 2019) para 39(a).
[xxxi]Royal Commission and Board of Inquiry into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory (Final Report, 2017) vol 3b, 82.
[xxxii]Royal Commission and Board of Inquiry into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory (Final Report, 2017) vol 3b, 82.
[xxxiii] The Kirby Institute, Sexual Health and Relationships in Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People: Results from the first national study assessing knowledge, risk practices and health service use in relation to sexually transmitted infections and blood borne viruses (Report, 2014) 54.