An extraordinary thing happened in North Queensland. Thanks to the Mums and Babies Project run by Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health Services perinatal deaths fell from 58 to 22 per thousand, the number of premature births almost halved and birth weights increased.
What is truly extraordinary is that it happened against a backdrop of decades-long failure to improve Indigenous health and an overwhelming sense of pessimism about the chances of ever doing so.
We need to end the myth that the health crisis affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can’t be solved. If we believe it is impossible to fix Indigenous health problems then we cannot blame governments for failing - low expectations provide no impetus for success.
The fact is that we can fix Aboriginal health. As Indigenous Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said, the suggestion that a country as wealthy as ours can’t fix a health crisis affecting less than three per cent of our citizens is simply not credible.
What we need is a community commitment to getting results - we all need to make Indigenous health a national priority.
The Australian Future Directions Forum recently nominated the elimination of Indigenous disadvantage as the number one issue Australia needs to address. The key to success will be a community that believes that improvement is possible and demands results.
We can build that community commitment by drawing on the evidence of programs that work. In tackling Indigenous health, our starting point should be a focus on success.
There is a wealth of research about the health problems faced by Indigenous Australians. We have countless reports and reviews repeating the statistics of failure and telling us what is wrong.
We know that the life expectancy of Indigenous men is nearly two decades shorter than that of other Australian males and that Aboriginal babies in Western Australia and the Northern Territory are three times more likely to die before their first birthday than other Australian babies. Indigenous people are much more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than other Australians and evidence suggests they are between two and four times more likely to experience diabetes.
We cannot and we must not ignore these facts - but we also need to hear more about the research being done on proven solutions.
We need to make success the core of our activity - that means making evidence-based solutions the heart of our research and policy decisions.
If something works we need to find out why, to invest in it and to roll it out to other interested communities. We don’t have to keep re-inventing the wheel.
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