Gap between indigenous and non-indigenous longevity surges in WA

The disparity between the life expectancy of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal West Australians has surged, bucking a national trend that shows a closing of the gap, a new report has found.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, released this week, shows the life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous West Australians increased from 14.7 years to 15.1 years in men and 12.9 years to 13.5 years in women in a comparison of data between 2005-2007 and 2010-2012.

Nationally, the gap decreased from 11.4 years to 10.6 years for men and remained stable at 9.6 years to 9.5 years for women during the same period.

The figures come despite the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2017: Western Australia report showing small increases in the life expectancy of indigenous males in WA from 64.5 to 65 years and indigenous females from 70 to 70.2 years between 2005–2007 and 2010–2012.

Aboriginal Health Council of WA chairperson Michelle Nelson-Cox said despite the improvements to indigenous longevity and several other health outcomes, there was still a long way to go and health education remained a key focus.

“Positively, this report identifies several areas of improvement in Aboriginal health, including a 48% drop in deaths from circulatory diseases and five-fold increase in the rate of indigenous health checks being claimed,” Ms Nelson-Cox said.

The report showed a substantial increase in the rate of indigenous-specific health checks being claimed, rising from 42 per 1000 in 2006-07 to 254 per 1000 in 2014-15, she said.

“This is a significant move that shows health education campaigns and our commitment to making health checks more available to Aboriginal communities are having an impact,” she said.

“But we remain deeply concerned at several findings, including that the rate of indigenous women smoking during pregnancy is five times higher than non-indigenous women and the disparity in notifications for sexually transmitted infections for indigenous Australians.

“In addition, the death rates for chronic diseases are much higher for indigenous Australians than non-indigenous Australians.

“To that end, this report highlights the need for greater investment in evidence based, culturally safe, high quality responsive and accessibly primary health care for Aboriginal people in WA.

“AHCWA urgently calls on the government to provide further support to Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) who continue to be the strongest, most effective means to addressing the gap in health outcomes.

“Without this investment, achieving our Closing the Gap targets will remain out of reach.”

Ms Nelson-Cox said while it was recognised that governments invested significant funding in Aboriginal health, Aboriginal community and community-controlled organisations were the most effective agencies.

There also needed to be greater transparency and accountability of other stakeholders in the sector, she said.

AHCWA is the peak body for Aboriginal health in WA, with 22 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) currently engaged as members.

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