Despite Australia having one of the highest life expectancy rates of any country in the world, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community still experience mortality rates in line with some of the world’s poorest countries.
Australia’s national ‘Close the Gap’ day highlights the importance of addressing this disparity in access to healthcare for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community that results in a 10-17 year gap in life expectancy compared to other Australians.
“Equal access to healthcare is a basic human right which must be upheld,” said Mr Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and Research Patron for The George Institute.
“While there have been positive changes over the past decade, including improvements in infant and child health, the number of health checks being reported and better access to medicines, there is still a long way to go to achieve health equality for our people.”
Professor Vlado Perkovic, Executive Director of The George Institute, Australia, said the Institute is committed to closing the gap on healthcare inequality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, through community engagement and evidence based research.
“In Australia we have a world-class healthcare system, which is why the gap in life-expectancy for Aboriginal people remains completely unacceptable, and is our most urgent healthcare issue.
“At The George Institute we are committed to working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, to find practical and innovative ways to close the gap on healthcare inequality.”
One such example is the innovative Driving Change program, a pragmatic trial of a community-based driver licensing program that helps young Aboriginal people gain their driver’s license. Licensing is an important gateway to employment and education, and the program, running in 12 communities across NSW employs youth workers to support young people through the licensing system.
Alex Niki, a Driving Change Youth Worker in Wagga said, “The Driving Change program is an amazing program. I’m now able to encourage more people in my community, because I think getting a licence is probably one of the best things that ever happened to me, opened a lot of doors. So I want to do that for younger kids.”
Other research programs currently running at The George Institute, Australia, include:
‘1 Deadly Step’: Through strong community engagement, the ‘1 Deadly Step’ program aims to use a culturally appropriate, community-based model to increase awareness of chronic diseases and to promote prevention in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of NSW.
‘Can’t Even Quit’: This program is the first of its kind in Australia and is using mobile health technologies as a cost-effective and easily accessible strategy to lower smoking rates in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
‘The Coolomon Project’: This study is looking to address the gap in burns related research by identifying the burden of burns among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with serious burns, and the data will be used to develop culturally appropriate, best-practice, models of care.
‘Ironbark’: This program is a culturally appropriate fall prevention program for older Aboriginal people living in NSW. Through community consultation, the analysis of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health data, and collaboration between key stakeholders in Aboriginal health and experts in fall prevention, an Aboriginal-specific fall prevention program was developed and trailed. The Ironbark Program, was designed to improve the strength and balance of Aboriginal Elders, decreasing their risk of falling and allowing them to stand strong and tall in their communities.
‘Buckle-Up’: Transport crashes are a major cause of death and serious injury in Australian children and Aboriginal children are at increased risk. The project team have developed a program that includes educational resources, training of health and education workers, provision of low costs seats and free fitting.