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United effort needed to close health gap

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Genuine collaboration across the political divide is needed if good intentions about close the gap on Indigenous health is to result in tangible improvements, AMA President Professor Brian Owler has said.

Professor Owler said that although there had been welcome progress on some measures of Indigenous wellbeing, a multipronged approach involving all levels of government and their agencies was vital if significant and enduring advances were to be achieved.

“As a nation, we have changed the way we talk about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and, as a nation, we can now take the next step to close the health and life expectancy gap,” the AMA President said in a statement to mark National Close the Gap Day.

“A genuine partnership between governments, across the political spectrum, would be a catalyst to achieving significant and much-needed health and lifestyle improvements for all Indigenous Australians.”

Government figures show smoking rates among Indigenous people are coming down, and the nation is on track to halve the mortality rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children by 2018.

But Professor Owler said they continued to suffer from a high incidence of treatable and preventable conditions including type 2 diabetes, rheumatic heart disease, kidney disease and scabies.

Furthermore, Indigenous people were much more likely to have undiagnosed and untreated chronic conditions, and to suffer several problems simultaneously.

Combined, these factors have meant that Indigenous people are, on average, dying 10 years earlier than other Australians.

The Federal Government led by Tony Abbott turned the policy focus on to school attendance and employment, but Professor Owler said good health was fundamental to improvement in other areas and should be a priority.

“We have seen encouraging improvements in some areas of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing over recent years, but we need to see consistency of positive outcomes across the country and across the major health indicators,” he said. “Much more needs to be done to close health inequality gap between Indigenous and non- Indigenous people [and] health should be a foundation that underpins improvements in other measures.”

The AMA has been a long-standing supporter of the Close the Gap campaign, and Professor Owler said National Close the Gap Day was an important reminder for all Australians to act to improve Indigenous health equality.

“It is inexcusable that Australia, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, can allow three per cent of its citizens to have poorer health and die younger than the rest of the population,” he said. “Closing the gap is everybody’s business.”

Adrian Rollins