Australia is a lucky country, with excellent healthcare just one of the wealths we enjoy. But it doesn’t take too much digging beneath the surface to see the inequalities that exist.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a life expectancy of 10-17 years less than non-Indigenous Australians. For many Aboriginal communities, particularly those in remote locations, health services are not easily accessible. Health services that are available often lack cultural sensitivity, which can make them feel like unwelcoming places.
As a result of a long history of discrimination and dispossession, Indigenous people also have some of the lowest levels of education in Australia, the highest levels of unemployment and the poorest housing conditions. Oxfam reports show that all of these factors play a role in the state of Indigenous health.
Working together for health equality
Close the Gap is a collective campaign launched in 2006 by some of Australia’s peak health bodies, NGOs and human rights organisations. It has a big goal: to achieve health and life expectation equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
To achieve this, Close the Gap works to ensure the Australian government is prioritising Indigenous health – by working with communities, committing to additional funding and investing in effective partnerships,
Here, Oxfam Close the Gap Day campaign coordinator Tom Widdup explains more about why the gap exists, and how we can all work together to close it.
"Oxfam believes it is possible to close the gap in health and life expectancy experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Many of the solutions exist already."
Can you describe the vision of Close the Gap?
Everyone deserves the right to a healthy future; particularly in a rich country like ours.
A healthy future means the freedom for all Australians to take full advantage of life's opportunities –no matter where your parents are from.
It means knowing your kids will be healthy enough to go to school with their friends, rather than suffering from preventable diseases keeping them from getting an education. It means the comfort of knowing your ageing parents will still be around to watch their grandkids grow up.
The reality is a lot different for many Australians. Depending on where they are around the country, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can live 10, 15, sometimes 20 years less than other Australians.
Oxfam believes it is possible to close the gap in health and life expectancy experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Many of the solutions exist already and there are numerous examples of community-led success stories.
"The health crisis is very much caused by poverty, disadvantage and racism, but one of the biggest concerns is that in 2017 it is an issue at all in a country such as Australia."
What are some of the biggest issues in Indigenous health?
As well as reduced life expectancy, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are disproportionately affected by many health conditions, from chronic disease and infant mortality to mental health and suicide.
Several extremely serious but preventable conditions that don’t afflict non-Indigenous Australians are found amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Diseases like rheumatic heart disease can lead to open heart surgery, permanent disability, heart failure, stroke and premature death.
The health crisis is very much caused by poverty, disadvantage and racism, but one of the biggest concerns is that in 2017 it is an issue at all in a country such as Australia.
As Close the Gap campaign founder and former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma has said, “It is not credible to suggest that one of the wealthiest nations of the world cannot solve a health crisis affecting less than 3% of its citizens”.
"As the world's oldest living culture, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have endured a lot but need our politicians to start listening and supporting Indigenous Australians with the resources they need to close the gap on health inequality."
What needs to happen to close the gap?
To close the gap, governments must work with Australia’s First Peoples and communities constructively, engaging with and resourcing their actual needs.
It’s about recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities already have many of the solutions, and they are simply asking that they be heard.
Following from that, funding and programming for Indigenous health has to focus on the needs identified by communities themselves.
As the world's oldest living culture, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have endured a lot but need our politicians to start listening and supporting Indigenous Australians with the resources they need to close the gap on health inequality.
What can individuals do to support change?
We each hold the power to ensure that our leaders listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and work with them.
The Close the Gap campaign has already enjoyed more than a decade’s worth of support from the Australian public, through calling on our political leaders to take clearer actions. In the past 11 years we have seen some strong positive changes, but they are not enough.
Australians need to keep applying pressure on the government so those with political power don’t lose focus on the issue, or address it with anything less than the seriousness it deserves.
The best thing any of us can do is to send a strong message to politicians to demand action on this issue. Oxfam is encouraging all Australians to sign the Close the Gap pledge, host or attend an Close the Gap event and most importantly write to, call or visit your MP and tell them you want to see action.
Find out more about Close the Gap.
Medibank is proud to support the health and wellbeing of the indigenous community through a number of initiatives, including an Indigenous grants program. This year we launch our fourth Reconciliation Action Plan. Find out more.