Better health care for the indigenous population

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Young Indigenous Australians at a higher health risk than non indigenous population reveal a host of new studies.

Eye to eye

A report from Melbourne University says that Indigenous Australians are six times more likely than other Australians to be blind and more than a third of this population has never had an eye examination. Now a substantial number of optometrists will be sent to remote Aboriginal communities under a $6.5 million federal program.

According to Federal Indigenous Health Minister Warren Snowdon, more than 106 communities will benefit from the program, including 17 in South Australia. He said, “The optometrists have been, I must say, very committed to improving health outcomes…What this will do is give us a greater capacity to spread their services across the country.”

However CEO of the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia Mary Buckskin feels a one time visit from optometrists is insufficient unless there is a more regular treatment. “Of course there are some services that they will need to come into bigger urban centres such as Adelaide for treatment, but working with health services on the ground and coordinating these and some follow-up and supporting comprehensive primary health care on the ground will be a key to making this work,” she said.

Oral issues

According to a study published in latest issue the Medical Journal of Australia that is focusing on Aboriginal health, young Aboriginal adults have 2-11 times higher risk of poor oral health. Dr Lisa Jamieson, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health at the University of Adelaide and colleagues compared oral health outcomes of a group of young Aboriginal adults enlisted in the Aboriginal Birth Cohort (ABC) study with similarly aged nationally representative counterparts in the National Survey of Adult Oral Health (NSAOH).

Their results showed that Aboriginal participants had nearly eight times more decayed teeth and non-indigenous populations with untreated decayed teeth being three times more. The Aboriginals suffered 10.8 times more from moderate or severe periodontal disease compared to general population. They had 1.9, 4.1 and 4.5 times higher the risk of calculus, plaque and gingivitis, respectively. Dr Jamieson said, “Of particular concern is the high rate of untreated dental decay and periodontal disease in young Aboriginal adults, with links between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, diabetes and obesity…Lifestyle diseases such as these are the most common cause of premature adult mortality among Indigenous Australian populations….Although it is difficult to ascertain the role that periodontal disease might play in the development of chronic disease among Australia’s Indigenous population, with half the Indigenous population currently aged under 21 years, this high prevalence of periodontal disease may contribute to a heavy burden of chronic disease in the future.”

Solutions in the horizon

According to health experts a Brisbane-based Aboriginal health institute could set an example in tackling Aboriginal health issues. The Australian Medical Association's (AMA) Taskforce on Indigenous Health has received an outline of plans on the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health in Brisbane on Saturday. AMA vice president Dr Steve Hambleton said that the experts met to prepare a 2010 report on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health. He went on to say that the institute is made of four Aboriginal health providers who co-ordinate health care in the southeast corner of the state and there is Aboriginal leadership involved. He also pointed out that, “We hear a lot about Aboriginal health in the bush…But 75 per cent of Aboriginal people live in urban areas…In southeast Queensland there's 40,000 Aboriginal people.”

He assured that the taskforce will look into implementation of the health reforms especially in the vulnerable and disadvantaged populations.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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