National Close the Gap Day on Thursday 21 March is a reminder that as long as life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is significantly less than for others in Australia, work on the issue must continue to be a national priority. Chronic disease and the impacts of smoking and alcohol are major contributors to this gap; work in these areas has potential to bring considerable improvement. Person-centred initiatives focusing on maternal and child health will lay the foundation for much better health and capacity building for future generations.
It was therefore pleasing to see the findings about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in the recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Healthy for Life: results for July 2007-2011. It reported rises in average birth weight, drops in maternal smoking and drinking, and increases in the proportion of people having health assessments and care plans.
There is certainly no cause for complacency, but there is value in acknowledging the pleasing direction of these trends and the value of the programs – both small and large, national and local – that are contributing to them. Success breeds success and celebration engenders enthusiasm. The March edition of the National Rural Health Alliance’s magazine Partyline celebrates some such programs as part of its support for the Closing the Gap campaign and its ongoing work for good health and wellbeing in rural and remote Australia.
Run by St John of God Health Care, the Aboriginal Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Training Program is a two-day session for health professionals working with Aboriginal families to promote emotional, physical and social wellbeing in Victoria and New South Wales. In South Australia, the Aboriginal Family Birthing Program provides holistic maternity care for Aboriginal women and their families through a partnership between an Aboriginal Maternal Infant Care Worker, a midwife and a doctor. One of the consequences of Australia’s health gap is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to take on a caring role. The Carers NT Remote Respite ‘Troopy’ program and the Carers NSW Looking After Ourselves program are both widely acclaimed.
In February this year the new Rural Health Channel (Channel 600) broadcast two programs on the unique and vital role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers. The Rural Health Education Foundation has packaged and made available a multimedia DVD featuring these two programs, along with other resources designed to increase understanding about this valuable profession. Australian Indigenous HealthInfonet is constantly updating its on-line library of health research and resources. Tomorrowgirl, a short story competition closing on 3 May, encourages Aboriginal high school girls in remote communities to create a more beautiful tomorrow.
Gordon Gregory - Executive Director: 02 6285 4660