The Aboriginal Health Council of WA (AHCWA) says its anti-smoking program for Aboriginal people will have to be cancelled if the Federal Government does not renew its funding.
The program currently receives $1.3 million annually in government funding, but this is due to run out on 31 March 2015.
AHCWA Chairperson Michelle Nelson-Cox said the effects of cancelling the program could be severe.
“Aboriginal people in WA are twice as likely to smoke as non-Aboriginal people and 20% of Aboriginal people die from illnesses caused by smoking,” she said.
“Last year, this program was delivered to more than 2,500 people in Perth to help them to fight smoking, adopt healthy lifestyles and create smoke-free environments for their children.
“We are very concerned that if this program is cancelled it will lead to a rise in the number of Aboriginal people smoking and dying from smoking-related illnesses.”
Ms Nelson-Cox said securing funding from the Commonwealth had been an ongoing battle, and the last funding arrangement was only put in place for three months.
She said the AHCWA Tobacco and Healthy Lifestyle Team which delivered the program had already been reduced from 10 people to five because of the funding uncertainty.
“This team is in limbo because of the lack of certainty around funding, which has been going on since June last year,” she said.
“We currently have a hiring freeze in place and the five people remaining will lose their jobs if the funding is not renewed.
“The team also cannot commit to new requests to deliver the workshops because they don’t know if the program will survive past the 31st of March.
“This program was supposed to provide training and job security to young Aboriginal people and it is very unfair to keep stringing them along by delaying funding announcements.”
Ms Nelson-Cox questioned how committed the government was to closing the gap.
“First, the Federal Government withdrew funding for remote aboriginal communities and now it’s stalling on providing ongoing funding for essential health services,” she said.
“If the government really wants to close the gap, it’s going the wrong way about it.”
AHCWA is the peak body representing the 21 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services in Western Australia.