Closing the Indigenous health gap
We hear a lot about ‘closing the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health outcomes. With a 12 year difference in life expectancy between non-Indigenous and Indigenous males, and child mortality rates up to four times higher in Indigenous communities, Indigenous disadvantage is considered to be one of Australia’s biggest health problems.
But what we often don’t hear about is the gap between Indigenous people who live in rural areas, and those that live in urban areas.
Indigenous people living in urban areas have the lion’s share of many conditions affecting Indigenous communities, including around 60 per cent of the burden of cardiovascular disease, diabetes cases and cancers, as well as a staggering 83 per cent of mental health issues.
Despite this, only 10 per cent of research in Indigenous health focuses on urban communities. For Professor Emily Banks that means a significant lack of data to help find solutions to these health problems.
That’s a gap that a team of researchers, working with Aboriginal Communities and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services are working to close. This collaboration, including Banks, builds on a research program called the Study of Environment on Aboriginal Resilience and Child Health (SEARCH). SEARCH, is the first large scale study into the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal children living in urban communities in New South Wales, was born out of a partnership between researchers and Aboriginal communities.
The community wanted research that followed people in the long-term and focused on children - their families and their environment. The communities also identified priority health issues, like ear health and social and mental wellbeing. Banks says,"a key part of SEARCH is that it is community initiated and responds to community priorities."
"Our early results show that what the communities identified as being important health issues were major concerns; ear infections and speech and language problems are very common. We also found that there was a lot of unmet need for things like speech pathology. So one of the things the SEARCH team has been doing is working to get better access to speech services."
The aim of the research is to help identify barriers to best practice primary care for urban Aboriginal children and to develop strategies to deal with these.