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28 Sep 2017

The Federal Government needs to broaden its thinking when it comes to addressing the healthcare needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, because the current situation is unacceptable, according to AMA President Dr Michael Gannon.

Addressing the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA) conference in the Hunter Valley in September, Dr Gannon said Indigenous doctors were vital to the health of Indigenous Australians.

“The AMA has said time and again that it is simply unacceptable that Australia cannot manage the health care of the first peoples, who make up just three per cent of our population,” Dr Gannon said.

“When it comes to Indigenous health, the Federal Government needs to broaden its thinking.

“For too long now, people working in Indigenous health have called for action to address the social issues that affect the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Education, housing, employment, sanitation, clean water, and transport – these all affect health too.

“This is clearly recognised in the Government’s own National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Health Plan 2013-2023, yet we continue to see insufficient action on addressing social determinants.

“One message is clear – the evidence of what needs to be done is with us. There is a huge volume of research, frameworks, strategies, action plans and the like sitting with governments – and yet we are not seeing these being properly resourced and funded. We do not need more paper documents. We need action.

“The AMA recognises that Indigenous doctors are critical to improving health outcomes for their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors have a unique ability to align their clinical and cultural expertise to improve access to services, and provide culturally appropriate care for Indigenous patients.

“But there are too few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors and medical students in Australia.”

AIDA used its conference to celebrate the organisation’s 20th anniversary and had a conference theme of Family – Unity – Success.

Dr Gannon congratulated AIDA on the anniversary, noting that it had “come a long way”.

He said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face adversity in many aspects of their lives.

“There is arguably no greater indicator of disadvantage than the appalling state of Indigenous health,” he said.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are needlessly sicker, and are dying much younger than their non-Indigenous peers.

“What is even more disturbing is that many of these health problems and deaths stem from preventable causes.

“The battle to gain meaningful and lasting improvements has been long and hard, and it continues.

“I am proud to be President of an organisation that has for decades highlighted the deficiencies in Indigenous health services and advocated for improvements.

“While there has been some success in reducing childhood mortality and smoking rates, the high levels of chronic disease among Indigenous people continue to be of considerable concern.

“For the AMA, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is a key priority. It is core business.

“It is a responsibility of the entire medical profession to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the best possible health.

“It is the responsibility of doctors to ensure that patients – all patients - are able to live their lives to the fullest.”

This year, the AMA’s Report Card on Indigenous Health – to be released in November – will focus on ear health and hearing loss.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia suffer from some of the highest levels of ear disease in the world, and experience hearing problems at up to 10 times the rate of non-Indigenous people across nearly all age groups.

Hearing loss has health and social implications, particularly in relation to educational difficulties, low self-esteem, and contact with the criminal justice system.

The report card will be a catalyst for Government action to improve ear health among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Dr Gannon told the conference that at every opportunity, the AMA highlights the issues of housing, clean water, transport, food security, access to allied medical services, and other social determinants that contribute to chronic disease and act as barriers to treatment and prevention.

And he said the AMA will continue advocating for an increase in the number of Indigenous doctors in Australia.

“The AMA has been a persistent, sustained, and powerful voice on Indigenous health for decades,” he said.

CHRIS JOHNSON

PIC: Dr Jeff McMullen, Dr Michael Gannon, Charles Davison, and Karl Briscoe


Published: 28 Sep 2017