4704.0 - The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 2003  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 29/08/2003   
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August 29, 2003
Embargoed: 11:30 AM (AEST)
Report assesses health and welfare of aboriginal and torres strait islander peoples

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are behind the general Australian population in many of the indicators of health and welfare, according to a major biennial report launched in Perth today by 2003 Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Stanley, AC.

According to the joint report of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the life expectancy at birth of Indigenous Australians was estimated to be 20 years lower than the total population. Age specific death rates among Indigenous Australians were much higher than for the rest of the population for most causes of death.

Diabetes is a significant health issue for Indigenous Australians and in recent years nearly a third of Indigenous hospital stays were for 'care involving dialysis', nine times the rate of other Australians. Diabetes was responsible for a much higher proportion of Indigenous deaths than for other Australians.

Indigenous mothers were more likely to have babies younger (25 years compared to 29 years for non-Indigenous mothers) and Indigenous babies were twice as likely both to be of low birthweight and/or to die around the time of birth.

One in four Indigenous Australians lived in remote areas of Australia in 2001 (compared to one in fifty other Australians). Their geographic remoteness limits access to health services, to adequate quality housing and related services, to education services and to employment opportunities, all of which can impact on health outcomes.

Indigenous Australians in non-remote areas experienced lower educational attainment, had lower incomes, higher rates of smoking and obesity, were more likely to be hospitalised, more likely to have long-term health conditions associated with diabetes and asthma, and more likely to have hearing problems when compared to the rest of the population.

However, the report also highlights some of the initiatives being undertaken to improve health-related circumstances in Indigenous communities. Examples included:
  • The Cape York Family Income Management project, providing access to financial services and products to improve family budgeting and saving;
  • The building of public pools in three remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia ;
  • The Nganampa Health Council's antenatal care program in South Australia, which is achieving an increase in birth weights and a reduction in perinatal mortality rates; and
  • Establishment of a General Practitioner Aboriginal Health Clinic, in partnership between the Shoalhaven Division of General Practice and the Aboriginal community controlled South Coast Medical Service, which is improving access to health services for the local Indigenous population.

Professor Stanley said the report was a rich source of information for anyone interested in the health and welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

"This report will be a valuable tool in the ongoing efforts of government and the community to understand the needs of, and improve services and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples," she said.

More details are in The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 2003 (cat. no. 4704.0).