The Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia says a new Federal Government report about the state of indigenous health is encouraging, but evidence that an increased focus is needed in investing in Aboriginal community-controlled health services.
The 2017 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework, released by the Federal Government on May 30, monitors health outcomes, health system performance and broader health factors across Australia.
AHCWA chairperson Michelle Nelson-Cox said the key findings of the report reflected several improvements in the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but also found there was overwhelming need for continued progress.
“Improving health outcomes for Aboriginal people requires a focus on community-led programs,” Ms Nelson-Cox said.
“We are pleased to see a number of West Australian community-based programs highlighted in this important report, specifically strategies to improve child and maternal health in regional WA.”
The report cites the success of a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders prevention program run by the Ord Valley Aboriginal Health Service in Kununurra that provides education and support to antenatal clients and their families, as well student education sessions.
“The success of the program can be attributed to both community investment and ownership and the willingness of the Aboriginal community to embrace change,” the report states.
Another positive strategy highlighted in the report is the Birth to School Entry project in the Pilbara region, in which the Wirraka Maya Health Service Aboriginal Corporation was allocated funding to provide primary prevention activities.
About 400 child health checks and 1000 immunisations are conducted each year in Port Hedland, South Hedland and surrounding communities through the program, which also offers hygiene sessions, ear health education, an alcohol in pregnancy intervention and an outreach service.
“We are proud to support some of the most innovative and effective grassroots health programs in the country,” Ms Nelson-Cox said.
“The success of these projects not only provides better health outcomes for our people living in remote WA, but gives others the motivation to build similar initiatives in their own communities.”
Across the board, the report found that the amount of care delivered through Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary health care services had tripled, increasing from 1.2 million in 1999–2000 to 3.5 million in 2014–15.
In addition, there has been a significant decline in the mortality rate for indigenous children up to the age of four, which dropped 33% between 1998 and 2015.
While the report found significant health improvements in some areas, indigenous Australians are still more prone to disease and chronic illnesses – 2.3 times the rate of non-indigenous Australians in 2011.
It also found the life expectancy of indigenous Australians had improved slightly in recent years but progress is needed to close the gap if the target of 2031 is to be met.
AHCWA is the peak body for Aboriginal health in WA, with 22 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) currently engaged as members.