This section of the website provides information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) health. It includes some introductory information, useful statistics and links to other resources, organisations and campaigns about Indigenous health. Scroll down or click on one of the internal links below to find out more.
- Why is Indigenous health so bad?
- Campaigns to Close the Gap
- Resource Reviews
- Indigenous babies are twice as likely to have a low birth weight, which increases the risk of health problems as a child and later in life.
- Indigenous babies are more likely to die in their first year than non-Indigenous babies.
- The leading causes of death among Indigenous Australians are
- Cardiovascular disease (such as heart disease and strokes)
- Injuries (such as car crashes, assault and self-harm) and
- Indigenous Australians are between 9 to 13 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than non-Indigenous Australians.
- Indigenous Australians are 8 times more likely to die from chronic kidney disease than non-Indigenous Australians.
- Indigenous people are much more likely to be victims of violence and sexual abuse. There are much higher levels of substance abuse, family violence and suicide in Indigenous communities. Indigenous young people are more than 4 times more likely to be sexually abused than non-Indigenous young people.
- 3 out of 10 Indigenous Australians has eye or vision problems.
- 1 in 5 Indigenous Australians report hearing loss or complications.
- Up to 35% of Aboriginal men do not drink alcohol at all compared with 12% of non-Aboriginal men.
- 40% to 80% of Aboriginal women do not drink alcohol compared with 19% to 25% of non-Aboriginal women.
Indigenous Australians have the poorest health of all Australians, and this is caused by a range factors. The poor health experienced by Indigenous people reflects the disadvantage they experience. Geography is an important factor, as many Indigenous communities do not have access to quality health care and to clean water. Social factors like racism and historical factors like past policies of removing Indigenous children also need to be taken into account to explain the poor health of Indigenous Australians. Although over the last ten years some areas of Indigenous health have gotten better, many others have got worse. Improvement in the health of Australia’s Indigenous peoples requires long term commitment and a holistic approach which addresses other aspects of Indigenous wellbeing. StatisticsThe life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is 12 years less than non-Indigenous Australians. Indigenous males can expect to live to 67 years while Indigenous women can expect to live to 79 years. Many Indigenous Australians also die very young. 45% of Indigenous males and 34% of Indigenous females die before the age of 45 years. The corresponding proportion for non-Indigenous males and females is 10% and 6% respectively. Other important statistics include:
Indigenous people also have higher rates of at risk drinking, smoking and other drug use. At the same time, a third of Indigenous people do not drink at all - which is much higher than for non-Indigenous people:
Note that these figures were compiled from 2007-9 reports. For the most up to date statistics follow the links below in the Resource section, as new statistics come out every 2 years or so.
There are many factors that contribute to the poor health of Indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians face disadvantage in all areas compared to non-Indigenous Australians including in employment, education, housing and levels of incarceration. For example, people with low incomes tend to eat less well, go to the doctor less often and may often not be able to afford treatment. All this adds up to getting sick more often, and more seriously. More Indigenous people also tend to live in areas which are isolated, and where there is a lack of access to clean water, fresh food, doctors and health clinics.
It is also important to take into consideration Australia’s long history of abandoning the health, safely and care of Indigenous Australians. The poverty that many Indigenous people experienced when they were moved off their traditional lands so could not continue with their traditional lifestyles, but were also not allowed to work for equal wages, has led to poor health over the generations.
Indigenous people also experienced racism from doctors, with some doctors and hospitals refusing to treat Indigenous people. This kind of discrimination became illegal in Australia in the 1970s.
The past policies of taking Indigenous children from their families (the Stolen Generations) has also impacted badly on the mental and emotional wellbeing of communities.
These are some of the reasons why Indigenous people often feel uncomfortable using health services that are not run by Indigenous people.
Indigenous Australians also get sick from a range of diseases that are avoidable. For example, there are much higher rates of deafness and blindness amongst Indigenous children than there need to be, because basic preventable ear and eye diseases result from poor hygiene, and are not picked up and treated early enough.
Over the last few years a large number of national campaigns have been launched which aim to highlight the difference in well-being between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people across all the socio-economic statistics, with a particular focus on health. These include the’ Close the Gap’ Campaign, which includes a range of Indigenous organisations and several large non-government organisations, including Oxfam and ANTAR.
Close the Gap campaigners call on all Australian Governments to work together to close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life expectancy within a generation (25 years).
In 2008, Australians Governments did pledge to work harder to ‘close the gap’. Sadly, recent research shows that while Indigenous people are healthier, some rates of disease are not improving.
There are also campaigns to highlight the success stories, and the examples of projects that show that real improvements can be made to Indigenous health. To get active in one of these incredibly important campaigns or to find out more follow the links at the end of this page. There are also good online resources you may want to use to run your own local project.
Oxfam’s Close the Gap Campaign website
The Close the Gap ‘Information’ page includes summary information and reports on Indigenous health. The website also describes actions that people can take to support the campaign for health equality.
The Australian Indigenous Health InfoNet is a massive web resource. It is funded by the government and has links to many other government health websites. Check out the ‘Key Facts’ page for summaries of key statistics, and answers to commonly asked questions.Every couple of years there is also a national report called
Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage, by the Productivity Commission, which pulls together lots of useful statistics, including health statistics. It is released every two years and can be downloaded from http://www.pc.gov.au/. Follow the links to ‘Reports’ or ‘Publications’ to find the latest edition. It’s a very long report so download the ‘Overview’ to get a summary.
ANTaR’s Indigenous Healing Hands Campaign
Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) is a not for profit group which has been running campaign on Indigenous health for several years. Their website includes some basic info about Indigenous health and copies of current media releases. Check out their ‘Issues and Campaigns’ section, and their Success Stories in Indigenous health booklet for examples of what is working!
The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) website
NACCHO is one of the peak Indigenous health bodies in Australia. The website doesn’t include much basic info, but does include useful reports and media releases about some of the important recent developments in Indigenous health policy, funding and research.
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