Prospects for closing the Indigenous health gap improve

03/06/2012

Momentum is building to close the gap in health equality between Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders and the rest of the community, an AMA audit of government initiatives has found.

The audit, presented to the AMA National Conference, showed that although Indigenous disadvantage remains significant and progress in the past decade has often been patchy and disappointing, recent coordinated action by Federal, State and Territory governments has delivered fresh impetus to efforts to raise the standard of Indigenous health.

The audit, which can be viewed by clicking here, summarised the recommendations made by the AMA in its annual Indigenous Health Report Cards in the past 10 years, and analysed the measures taken by governments related to these recommendations.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton told the conference the $1.6 billion commitment to improve Indigenous health made at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in 2008 had “added a significant and proportionate impetus to the prospects for closing the health equality gap within a generation”.

Dr Hambleton said that although the renewed focus by governments on the issue was still in its early stages, developments in the number of areas were promising.

In particular, the AMA President noted there had been:

  • a spending boost for comprehensive child and maternal health services for Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders;
  • a concentrated focus on chronic diseases and greater attention paid to mental health and social and emotional wellbeing;
  • targeted campaigns to lift the number of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders entering the health profession;
  • increased focus on collaboration and integration between health services; and
  • recognition of the need to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in framing health policy and strategies.

Dr Hambleton said it was encouraging that many of these government initiatives resonate well with recommendations made by the AMA in its Report Cards during the past decade.

But he warned prospects for improvement could falter without a commitment by governments to at the least sustain the current level of funding beyond the expiry of the current COAG agreement next year.

Dr Hambleton said the AMA audit also highlighted significant gaps and weaknesses in government programs that need to be addressed.

He said the high rate of incarceration of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders was “a national shame” and had to be brought down, efforts to build the workforce for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services needed to intensify, Aboriginal community-controlled health services must be accorded greater priority, and communities themselves must be given greater support to help address health problems.

“There is every reason to expect that a healthy future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can be secured with the right support, the right partnerships, and the right opportunities for these Australians to empower themselves for better health,” Dr Hambleton said.

But the AMA President warned that the progress made so far was fragile, and issued a plea for an across-the-board commitment from all the major political parties to sustain and increase the level of effort already reached.

“This expectation [to close the health gap in a generation] will only be met if the momentum of policy and program activity now taking place continues,” Dr Hambleton said. “This means that government of all political persuasions will need to commit, across their electoral cycles, to finish the job.”

AR