The National Rural Health Alliance welcomes the establishment of an Advisory Council to support the work of the Australian National Preventive Health Agency but warns that to have true national success, health promotion campaigns will need to be designed to be effective in rural and remote Australia and not just in cities.
Alliance chairperson, Jenny May, urged the Advisory Council to prioritise some of its efforts specifically towards the 32 per cent of Australia’s population who live in rural and remote communities, particularly those who are the most isolated and most disadvantaged.
“Australian communities are very diverse, and programs will be more effective if they are tailored to suit the characteristics of the communities in which there is greatest need,” Dr May said.
Mainstream health promotion campaigns are generally designed for metropolitan areas. The fact that these may be less effective in rural and remote areas was clearly illustrated during the decade to 2004-2005 when smoking rates fell significantly in metropolitan areas but increased or remained the same in rural and remote areas.
“Therefore the greatest health gains, both for individuals and nationally, are to be made through successful health promotion in rural and remote areas. This will require greater allocation of resources in areas where the health need is greater and where there is less access to healthcare professionals, supporting infrastructure and communication. There is also a need for a stronger focus on the health needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Dr May said.
The Alliance urges the Advisory Council to understand and address underlying causes of risk behaviours in rural areas and to engage local communities in program design. Strategies could include partnering with local organisations, training the local health workforce in preventive health, creating messages that are relevant for rural and remote communities, using communications channels most accessible in rural Australia, and placing messages in accessible locations (for example local grocery stores, sports events, agricultural shows).
“Through her work as Chair of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, Christine Bennett has good understanding of the health profile of rural Australia. As newly appointed head of the Advisory Council Professor Bennett is in an ideal position to ensure that the particular characteristics and needs of rural and remote communities are targeted for health promotion,” said Dr May.
Dr Jenny May - Chair: 0427 885 337
Helen Hopkins – Acting Executive Director: 02 6285 4660