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28 Sep 2017

The AMA continues to work towards achieving improved health and life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, guided by the knowledge and expertise of its Taskforce on Indigenous Health. Chaired by AMA President Dr Michael Gannon, the taskforce identifies, develops and recommends Indigenous health policy and strategies for the AMA. It has representation from AMA Federal Council, AMA members and Indigenous health organisations, including the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association.

Recently, the taskforce met in Canberra for its second meeting of the year. The taskforce was joined by Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt, who was invited to provide an insight into the current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health priorities and actions of the Federal Government.

Mr Wyatt also held an open dialogue with the taskforce about some prominent Indigenous health issues, including: the growing incidence of type 2 diabetes amongst young Indigenous people – with some children as young as five being diagnosed with this condition – renal disease, dialysis, health service delivery gaps, preventable hospital admissions and deaths, the flat lining of Indigenous mortality rates and the use of the Medicare Benefits Scheme and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.

While the AMA recognises that work is being done to address the scourge of type 2 diabetes in Indigenous communities, the taskforce took the opportunity to highlight to the Minister the importance of focusing on early-childhood interventions. The statistics of type 2 diabetes among Indigenous people are alarming, with Indigenous women in the Northern Territory being more than ten times more likely than non-Indigenous women to have diabetes. This has significant impacts on health outcomes for Indigenous children, with the in-utero period and first five years of life being critical in regards to long-term risk of chronic diseases. Indeed, research shows that foetuses exposed to high blood glucose as a result of maternal diabetes have a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on in life.

The AMA acknowledges the importance of the Council of Australian Governments’ Closing the Gap strategy to improving the health and life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, however, the taskforce is concerned about increasing evidence that shows mortality rates across all age groups within the Indigenous population have remained in a state of plateau since 2008. The taskforce highlighted to the Minister that this indicates the need for a new approach and a much more vigorous plan of action.

The taskforce also discussed the fundamental issue of racism within the health system in Australia. The high percentage of Indigenous patients and health care professionals who frequently experience racism and discrimination within the health system remains unacceptable. The taskforce recognised the vital need for more programs and strategies that create structural change to ensure that racism is eradicated from the entire health workforce.

In the face of unacceptable inequality and only modest gains in health outcomes for the Indigenous population, the AMA’s Taskforce on Indigenous Health will continue to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative bodies to raise public awareness of these critical issues and ensure that adequate and sustainable Indigenous health policies are pursued.


PIC: L-R: Dr Lara Wieland , Dr Paul Bauert, Dr Tony Bartone, Dr Tim Senior, Prof Robyn Langham, Ms Patricia Turner, The Hon Ken Wyatt MP, Dr Kane Vellar, Dr Michael Gannon, Dr Noel Hayman, Dr Kali Hayward, Dr Dana Slape, Mr Craig Dukes, Mr Rob Thomas, Prof Ian Ring, Dr Nadeem Siddiqui


Published: 28 Sep 2017