Indigenous health blueprint presented to Government and Opposition

HREOC media release – Monday, 28 July 2008

The Close the Gap coalition today presented the federal government and Opposition with a set of National Indigenous Health Equality Targets to address the 17-year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said the targets are the blueprint to achieve the Prime Minister’s goal of closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life expectancy in a generation.

“The targets are specific, time-bound commitments that will keep us on track to achieve the Close the Gap goals,” Commissioner Calma said.

“We look forward to working in partnership with the government to refine the targets, to ensure they are embedded in future policies and to use them to develop evidence-based health programmes targeted to those most in need.”

Commissioner Calma said the targets build on the positive steps already undertaken with the Government through the Indigenous Health Equality Summit, the signing of the Statement of Intent, and the recent launch of the National Indigenous Health Equality Council, which includes a number of health experts from the Close the Gap coalition.

“For a long time, we’ve known how to improve Aboriginal health. We’re now confident that there is a national commitment from all sides of politics to work in partnership with Aboriginal people to close the gap within our lifetimes,” said Commissioner Calma.

Dr Mick Adams, National Chair of the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) also emphasised the need to adopt the targets as part of a comprehensive national Indigenous health plan.

“It’s important that we resist the temptation to ‘cherry pick’ the specific targets. We will only succeed through a well resourced national plan that tackles the whole range of issues from chronic disease to child mortality; mental health as well as social and emotional well being.

“Indigenous people need access to comprehensive primary health care if we are going to be able to halve the rates of premature birth and low birth weight of Indigenous babies over the next decade. And, we still have a long way to go before we can say that all Indigenous Australians who suffer chronic diseases like diabetes or chronic kidney disease receive regular check ups. Aboriginal medical services need the level of resources, staffing and 21st Century facilities to, for the first time, match the burden of disease in their communities. For example, in the next five years alone we’re going to need an additional 1500 Aboriginal health workers.

“A concerted effort is required, not just a little more of the same,” Dr Adams said.

Dr Tamara Mackean, President of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA), said the targets are also designed to ensure there is adequate infrastructure, including a skilled workforce to deliver the services required.

“We need to immediately implement the National Indigenous Health Workforce Training Plan for Indigenous doctors, nurses, dentists, Aboriginal health workers and allied health workers to build Indigenous capacity and leadership,” said Dr Mackean.

Oxfam Australia’s acting Executive Director, James Ensor, said: “The Close the Gap goal has been embraced by the Australian community and the Australian Government. Now there is an outline of how we can achieve it.”

The National Indigenous Health Equality Targets were developed by the Close the Gap coalition, with input from leading organisations with a stake in Aboriginal health, following the first-ever Indigenous Health Equality Summit in March this year.

During the summit, the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader, Health Minister, Indigenous Affairs Minister, Indigenous and community representatives signed a Statement of Intent, in which they agreed to work in partnership to achieve equality in health status and life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by the year 2030.

The Statement of Intent commits all parties to developing a comprehensive, long-term plan of action that is targeted to need, evidence-based and capable of addressing inequities in health services, in order to achieve the close the gap goals.

The Close the Gap Steering Committee is led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma and includes the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA), the Indigenous Dentists’ Association of Australia, the Council of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses (CATSIN), Oxfam Australia, the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR), the Australian General Practice Network (AGPN), the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health, the Fred Hollows Foundation, the National Heart Foundation, the Menzies School of Health Research, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Copies of the National Indigenous Health Equality Targets will be
available from 2.30pm on Monday, 28 July at:
http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/health/targets/

Media contact: Patrick Flynn (HREOC) 0419 258 597
Chris Hallett (NACCHO) 0407 704 788
Gary Highland (ANTaR) 0418 476 940

Close the Gap is a coalition of the majority of Australia’s leading
health, human rights and Aboriginal organisations committed to working
with Federal, State and Territory Governments to narrow the life
expectancy gap between the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander
population and other Australians within a generation.