aboriginal boy

Sydney health researchers share their vision to 'Close the Gap'

21 March 2019
Working towards safe, accessible and responsive health programs
Despite more than a decade of government commitment to the national Close the Gap campaign, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can still expect to live up to 10-17 years less than non-Indigenous Australians.

Increasingly, researchers are looking at new ways to take real and measurable action to address Indigenous disadvantage in Australia - uncovering new approaches to make healthcare culturally safe, accessible and responsive, and creating evidence to influence health policy for entire communities.

At Sydney, our research focuses on identifying complex problems for investigation, agreeing on the most culturally appropriate and rigorous research methods, interpreting the results and disseminating new knowledge back to communities and policy makers.

Here, our experts lay out their visions for the future and share six ways to achieve Indigenous health equality by 2030.

Professor Jennifer Alison

Jennifer Alison, Professor of Respiratory Physiotherapy

By Aboriginal for Aboriginal

As Chair of the Australian Pulmonary Rehabilitation Network of Lung Foundation Australia, Professor Jennifer Alison is working with Aboriginal communities to better understand how to provide evidence-based care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people with chronic lung disease.

She says, "The biggest challenge we face is to deliver services in true collaboration with Aboriginal communities. Too often the initiatives put in place are just repurposed mainstream solutions that are not culturally appropriate."

With strong evidence to support the effectiveness of pulmonary rehabilitation in improving health-related quality of life and reducing hospitalisations, Professor Alison is currently engaging in research with Aboriginal Medical Services to upskill Aboriginal health workers to provide culturally appropriate pulmonary rehabilitation programs. The project is called Breathe Easy Walk Easy Lungs for Life (BE WELL).

She hopes that the research she is leading in collaboration with Aboriginal Medical Services, the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and an Aboriginal PhD student, David Meharg, will help 'Close the Gap' for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which affects approximately 20% of the adult Aboriginal population, with 5 times the hospitalisations and 3 times the death rate of non-Aboriginal people.

Dr Vanessa Lee

Dr Vanessa Lee, Director of Suicide Prevention Australia

Funding solutions that work

Dr Vanessa Lee is an advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice in health, providing an Indigenous social epidemiological perspective in her role as Director of Suicide Prevention Australia.

She says, "Funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention programs should go to Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) if we are to address the rate of suicide in Indigenous communities."

It is her vision that by providing secure and long-term funding to ACCHS to expand their mental health, social and emotional wellbeing, suicide prevention and alcohol and drug services, we can significantly reduce the rate of suicide among Indigenous Australians, who are currently twice as likely to take their own lives.

6 ways Australia can 'Close the Gap'

  • Develop a comprehensive strategy to build resilience and facilitate healing from intergenerational trauma, designed and delivered in collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
  • Partner with Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) to design, implement and evaluate health initiatives to ensure they are culturally safe, accessible and responsive.
  • Increase the delivery of training to Aboriginal health practitioners to provide best-practice care in a culturally appropriate way.
  • Provide secure and long-term funding to ACCHS to expand their mental health, social and emotional wellbeing, suicide prevention, and alcohol and other drugs services, using best-practice trauma-informed approaches.
  • Ensure funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health programs goes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services.
  • Increase funding opportunities for Aboriginal lead research.

The Close the Gap campaign is led by Aboriginal and Torrest Strait Islander organisations and supported by mainstream health and advocacy organisations to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


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