National Closing the Gap Day is coming up on March 21, so it’s timely to think about what has been achieved in Aboriginal health and what is yet to be done.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people still die 10-17 years younger than other Australians. Closing this health gap requires a long-term commitment with adequate funding, and investment in real partnerships.
In the Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions, the figures released in the 2011 Census show an estimated three per cent of all residents are of ATSI origin, higher than both the state and national averages of 2.5 per cent.
Another fact that emerges from the Census is further evidence of the disparity in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations: there are far less old-aged Aboriginal persons and a significantly higher percentage of children and young adults within the Aboriginal population than in the non-Aboriginal. In fact, the age bracket of 0-19 years of age accounts for 49 per cent of the Aboriginal population of the Illawarra-Shoalhaven regions.
I am a chronic care facilitator, working with Illawarra-Shoalhaven Medicare Local (ISML) under the Closing the Gap initiative. Being an Aboriginal person working in this program, I know and understand that there are significant specific workforce issues affecting the CTG program.
The issues around age, disease and life expectancy are high profile and receive a lot of attention and rightly so. But another important issue is employment: when people are employed they have better mental health and access to funds to access health care. They also gain respect the respect of others in the community.
What’s more, an Indigenous person working in the CTG program will get better results and take up of supports by Aboriginal people in our region because we’re part of the community and our advice is trusted.
Organisations need to embrace the opportunity to recruit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people if they want to access a community to initiate changes, gain access or give health care.
To this end, ISML has a target to halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade.
Our successful Closing the Gap initiatives are underpinned by trust, respect and goodwill between the Journey to Health team and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
I urge everyone who cares about closing the gap to show their support, talk about, spread the word and take action to improve Indigenous health in our community.
Carolynne Leon is a chronic care facilitator, working with Illawarra-Shoalhaven Medicare Local under the Closing the Gap initiative.