Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

The Health of Indigenous Australians Matters

The Health of Indigenous Australians Matters

Genevieve Hartin

Year 6, Pymble Ladies' College

What matters is the health and wellbeing of all Australians. How we look after each other reflects the core values of our society. Australia is a first world country with one of the best health systems in the world. Yet, some groups of Australians don't enjoy the benefits of our excellent healthcare system.  When we dig beneath the surface, we find some startling inequalities. 

There are few groups that are as disadvantaged as Indigenous Australians.  Life expectancy alone provides a snapshot of this inequality, with the life expectancy of an Indigenous female of 73.7 years, a full 9.5 years less than the population average.

This inequity has deep historical roots.  With British colonisation in the eighteenth century, a new way of life dawned upon the Aboriginal population. Europeans introduced new diseases including smallpox, tuberculosis, whooping cough, measles and influenza. The Aboriginal people had never been exposed to these diseases before and with their lack of immunity, there were deadly consequences.  Colonisation completely disrupted the Indigenous way-of-life with its marked effect upon social, economic and cultural factors - all impacting healthcare.

Mistrust is an immense problem to address when it comes to Aboriginal healthcare. After the stolen generation, and unfortunate historical events, most Aboriginal people can't trust white doctors. The only way we can find a resolution to this problem is if we introduce more Indigenous health and community workers. With these workers, Aboriginal people would be able to feel comfortable, as their doctor would be able to understand their culture - such as not looking a person directly in the eye. Currently, we only have 125 Indigenous doctors compared to 60,000 non-Indigenous doctors in Australia.

Studies have proven that the Indigenous people of Australia are more prone to sickness than others. Some main illnesses include diabetes, heart problems and alcoholism. Are you aware that 30% of Aboriginal adults suffer from Type 2 diabetes? It is often difficult to provide ongoing care to people with long term illnesses due to the Indigenous family culture of moving from place to place, spending time with relatives.  Health services need to consider these cultural trends and provide health care programs that adapt - showing understanding and care to Indigenous Australians. A system with culturally appropriate services encouraging continuity of care and effective health promotion is a necessity.

A system that addresses economic inequality, unemployment, violence, social dysfunction, and poverty is essential. That will all lead to better health outcomes.

History, mistrust and cultural factors have significantly impacted the health of Indigenous Australians - their life expectancy and quality of life. This issue matters as we are talking about lives belonging to humans, that we ought to be paying a great deal more attention too. Despite the fact that we have started to look at ways to address this inequality - we are still a long way away from achieving a solution. This medical crisis is ongoing, and if we are ever going to put a stop to it, that time has to be now. Do you really want Australia to be known for inequality in how we treat our people and care for their health?  I surely hope not.


www.aihw.gov.au, 28.4.19

www.ceativespirits.info, 22.4.19

australianstogether.org.au, 28.4.19