Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islander people are the indigenous Australians. Just like any other indigenous group in the world, the Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islander people constitute the minority population in the country. In terms of numbers, they constitute only a 3% of the Australian population. According to the national population census of 2011, the total population of the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people stood at 729,048 (Zhao, Vemuri & Arya, 2016). This number represents the population of the indigenous communities in different states and territories across the nation.
In terms of health, the Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islander people cannot be compared to the rest of the people in Australia. Research has established that the indigenous communities are worse-off. The communities have a high prevalence of nearly all the diseases as compared to the non-indigenous communities. The prevalence of communicable, cardiovascular, chronic and lifestyle diseases is higher amongst the Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islander people than the rest of the Australian population (Di Cesare, et al., 2013). The members of indigenous communities have higher chances of contracting lung cancer, breast cancer, and liver cancer, cancer of the pancreas, diabetes, tuberculosis, tetanus, injuries, accidents, stroke, heart failure, High Blood Pressure, coronary heart disease, mental illness, and disability. The Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people also have lower life expectancy, and higher mortality rates than the members of non-indigenous communities (Kendall & Barnett, 2015).
The poor state of the Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islander people has been linked to historical, social, economic, environmental, and behaviors factors. As the indigenous communities in Australia, the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people suffered as a result of colonialism. The invasion of the country by the European imperialists negatively impacted on the indigenous people because it drove them away from their ancestral lands to which they were strongly attached. His was a very unfortunate incident which greatly affected the community. It has contributed to the poor state of the health of the community (Kavanagh, et al., 2013). On the other hand, the community has been hit by its conservative cultural beliefs, lack of accessibility to employment, educational and housing facilities. Further, the location of the community members in the remote rural areas has hindered them from accessing quality healthcare services like the rest of the people in the country (Doolan, et al., 2015). These are the factors which have made it extremely challenging for the Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islander people to access quality healthcare services and enjoy health equality and equality.
When it comes to health matters, Australia is highly ranked globally. Because the commonwealth government of Australia is aware of the health disparities between its indigenous and non-indigenous communities, it has been making deliberate efforts to bridge the gap. Meaning, the government has making deliberate efforts to address the health challenges facing the indigenous people (Brown, O'Shea, Mott, McBride, Lawson & Jennings, 2015). To achieve this, the government has been applying different measures such as policy-guidelines and initiatives that are directly targeting the rural-based Aboriginals and he Torres Strait Islander people.
The first strategy that has been applied by the government in addressing the health concerns of the indigenous people is the establishment of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organizations (NACCOs) and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organizations (ACCHOs). These are community-owned and managed organizations that have been directly involved in the management of healthcare services delivered to the indigenous people in the country. As its name suggests, ACCHO refers to an organization that is formed and managed by the indigenous community members. Once it is established, the organization uses the local community members to identify and address the health needs of the community. So far, more than 150 ACCHOs are in operation in different parts of the country (Dempsey, et al., 2015). However, apart from relying on the community-owned ACCHOs, the government has been relying on the mainstream services to deliver health care to the indigenous people. Here, the members of the indigenous communities are encouraged to seek for healthcare services in the government hospitals to be served.
The Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islanders are reserved people who do not prefer to engage in anything that contravenes their cultural traditions. The cultural views held by the indigenous people have been barring them from accessing healthcare services. The reason why these people are reluctant to seek for modern healthcare services is that they believe that it does not appeal to their culture. At the same time, the people believe that the services are not designed to accommodate their needs. After all, most of healthcare providers are non-indigenous people who have no knowledge on the cultural values, traditions, views, and perceptions towards health (Badland, et al., 2014). Therefore, to encourage the indigenous people to embrace modern healthcare services, the government has between making efforts to actively involve them in healthcare delivery.
The first engagement strategy applied so far is the use of indigenous health workers. For a very long time, the members of indigenous communities have been finding it challenging to acquire quality education. This is why there have been a few indigenous people, who could join professions like nursing, pharmacy, psychiatry, surgery, and other medical-related disciplines. The fact that there were no indigenous healthcare workers made the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people to refrain from seeking for medical services. However, this problem has been resolved by increasing the number of indigenous employees in the healthcare facilities (Funston & Herring, 2016). On the other hand, the government has been relying on the services of the Indigenous Engagement Officers who coordinate the indigenous programs and liaise with the government to support and empower the indigenous communities to achieve health equality like the other Australian communities.
Currently, the government of Australia, in conjunction with the territory and state governments, has been engaging in pro-indigenous community programs. Some of the most outstanding initiatives are the NACCHOs, Closing the Gap Strategy and Empowered Community Strategy. These initiatives have been of great importance because they have made significant contributions towards the improvement of health status of the indigenous communities across the country. The programs have been effective in addressing the inequalities that have been barring the indigenous people from accessing quality healthcare services. The initiatives have been effective in increasing the chances of the indigenous people to get access to healthcare services just like the rest of the population. Accessibility to healthcare services has helped in improving the health status of the indigenous people (Donato & Segal, 2013). Today, the rate of diseases affecting the indigenous people has reduced. Even mortality and infant mortality rates have been declining thanks to these initiatives.
As a matter of fact, the implementation of Closing the Gap Strategy, Empowering Communities Initiatives, and NACCHOs demonstrates that the government of Australia is concerned about the indigenous communities. The empowerment and active involvement of the local indigenous community members in these initiatives has helped in improving the quality of health of the indigenous people. However, the existing gap has not been fully closed because there are so many problems which have not been addressed (Zhao, et al., 2013). The Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people are still battling ignorance, unemployment, poor living conditions and a wide range of cardiovascular, communicable, chronic, and respiratory diseases.
These problems can be ultimately addressed if the government puts more efforts in improving the living standards of the indigenous people. The best thing to do is to address the socioeconomic inequalities that have been faced by the members of the indigenous communities across the country. The government should avail more educational and employment opportunities to the indigenous people. If these issues are addressed, the health issues facing the indigenous people can be permanently addressed (Baba, Brolan & Hill, 2014). Education, unemployment, and poverty are the greatest factors which have been influencing the health of the Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islander people. Therefore, if they are addressed, the community members will never face the health challenges that have been hindering them from leading a quality and healthy life.
The other recommendation that should be adopted by the government is that it should improve on its empowerment initiatives. New polices should be introduced to strengthen community participation and empowerment in the indigenous health programs. For example, the ACCHOs should be fully-supported and equipped with local staff that has a deeper understanding of the indigenous cultures (Marley, et al., 2014). The presence of indigenous health workers has encouraged the members of the indigenous communities to seek for medical services because they are convinced that the services should be accepted because they are provided by one of their own who do not discriminate, but appreciate their diversities and understand their needs.
Baba, J.T., Brolan, C.E. & Hill, P.S., (2014). Aboriginal medical services cure more than illness: a qualitative study of how Indigenous services address the health impacts of discrimination in Brisbane communities. International journal for equity in health, 13(1), p.1.
Badland, H., et al., (2014). Urban liveability: emerging lessons from Australia for exploring the potential for indicators to measure the social determinants of health. Social Science & Medicine, 111, 64-73.
Brown, A., O'Shea, R.L., Mott, K., McBride, K.F., Lawson, T. & Jennings, G.L., (2015). A strategy for translating evidence into policy and practice to close the gap-developing essential service standards for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cardiovascular care. Heart, Lung and Circulation, 24(2), pp.119-125.
Dempsey, M., et al., (2015). Improving treatment outcomes for HIV-positive Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people at Cairns Sexual Health using the treatment cascade as a model. HIV Australia, 13(3), p.36.
Di Cesare, M., et al., (2013). Inequalities in non-communicable diseases and effective responses. The Lancet, 381(9866), 585-597.
Donato, R. & Segal, L. (2013). Does Australia have the appropriate health reform agenda to close the gap in Indigenous health?. Australian Health Review, 37(2), pp.232-238.
Doolan, I., et al., (2015). A retrospective comparison study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander injecting drug users and their contact with youth detention and/or prison. Australian Indigenous Health Bulletin, 15(4).
Fredericks, B.L., Lee, V., Adams, M.J. & Mahoney, R. (2015). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health. Introduction to Public Health [3rd Ed.], pp.355-376.
Funston, L. & Herring, S. (2016). When Will the Stolen Generations End? A Qualitative Critical Exploration of Contemporary'Child Protection'Practices in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities. Sexual Abuse in Australia and New Zealand, 7(1), p.51.
Kavanagh, A.M., et al., (2013). Time trends in socio-economic inequalities for women and men with disabilities in Australia: evidence of persisting inequalities. International journal for equity in health, 12(1), 1.
Kendall, E., & Barnett, L. (2015). Principles for the development of Aboriginal health interventions: culturally appropriate methods through systemic empathy. Ethnicity & health, 20(5), 437-452.
Marley, J.V., et al., (2014). The Be Our Ally Beat Smoking (BOABS) study, a randomised controlled trial of an intensive smoking cessation intervention in a remote aboriginal Australian health care setting. BMC public health, 14(1), 1.
Zhao, Y., Vemuri, S. R., & Arya, D. (2016). The economic benefits of eliminating Indigenous health inequality in the Northern Territory. Med J Aust, 205(6), 266-269.
Zhao, Y., et al., (2013). Health inequity in the Northern Territory, Australia. International journal for equity in health, 12(1), 1.
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