Small investments can make a big difference
For the AMA, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health has been, and will remain, a priority. It is our responsibility to advocate for and support efforts to improve health and life outcomes for Australia’s First Peoples.
The AMA works closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a number of ways to contribute to our mutual goal of closing the health and life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
We have close relationships with NACCHO, the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association and the Close the Gap Steering Committee, through which we collectively contribute to the national debate on Indigenous health issues. The Taskforce on Indigenous Health, which I Chair, is another way that the AMA works in partnership with Indigenous people.
Each year, through the Taskforce, the AMA produces an annual Report Card on Indigenous Health – a landmark publication that makes practical recommendations to governments on how key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health issues should be addressed.
This year the Report Card will have as its focus the eradication of rheumatic heart disease (RHD). RHD is an entirely preventable, third world condition that is wreaking havoc on the lives of Indigenous people in remote communities, primarily those in central and northern Australia. The 2016 Report Card on Indigenous Health will be a vital contribution to addressing RHD – a disease that should not be seen in Australia in the 21st century.
The AMA also supports policies and initiatives that aim to reduce other chronic and preventable diseases – many of which have an unacceptably high prevalence in remote Indigenous communities. An example of this is the little-known blood-borne virus HTLV-1, which in Australia occurs exclusively in remote Aboriginal communities in central Australia.
The AMA recognises that Aboriginal people living in Central Australia face many unique and complex health issues, and that these require specific research, training and clinical practice to properly manage and treat.
The AMA, as part of our broader 2016 election statement, called on the next government to support the establishment of a Central Australian Academic Health Science Centre. This is a collaboration driven by a consortium of leading health professionals and institutions, including: AMSANT, Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute, Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, Central Australia Health Service, Centre for Remote Health, Charles Darwin University, Flinders University, Menzies School of Health Research, Ngaanyatjarra Health Service and Nganampa Health Service.
The AMA sees the proposed Health Science Centre as a very significant endeavour to improve the health outcomes of Aboriginal people living in remote communities. There are already tangible benefits from this type of collaborative and multi-disciplinary approach to health services and research.
The aim of the AHSC is to prioritise their joint efforts, principally around workforce and capacity building and to increase the participation of Aboriginal people in health services and medical research.
Some examples of achievements include: the Central Australia Renal Study, which informs effective allocation of scarce health resources in the region; the Alice Springs Hospital Readmissions Prevention Project, which aims to reduce frequent readmissions to hospital; and the Health Determinants and Risk Factors program, which better informs health and social policy by understanding the relationship between health and other factors such as housing, trauma and food security.
Having a designated Health Science Centre would be a massive boost for research, clinical services, and lead to greater medical research and investment. The Centre would likely see more expertise and opportunities to develop Aboriginal researchers and health care workers.
Establishing and operating this Centre would cost $4 million a year – a modest ask considering the potential benefits it could deliver.
The AMA recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a lead role in identifying and developing solutions to respond to their health needs – the proposed Central Australian Academic Health Science Centre is a clear example of this. The AMA will continue to support the efforts of Indigenous people to improve health outcomes and urges governments to do the same.