There is considerable potential for health research to contribute to improved health services, programs, and outcomes; the policies of health research funding agencies are critical to achieving health gains from research. The need for research to better address health disparities in Indigenous people has been widely recognised. This paper: (i) describes the policy changes made by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) from 1997 to 2002 to improve funding of Aboriginal health research (ii) examines catalysts for the policy changes (iii) describes the extent to which policy changes were followed by new models of research and (iv) outlines issues for Indigenous health policy in the future.
This study had two parts: (i) semi-structured interviews were conducted over a four -month period with seven individuals who played a leading role in the policy changes at NHMRC during the period 1997–2002, to describe policy changes and to examine the catalysts for the changes; (ii) a case study was undertaken to evaluate projects by recipients of NHMRC People Support awards and NHMRC Capacity Building Grants in Population Health Research to examine the types of research being undertaken five years after the policy changes were implemented. The proposals of these researchers were assessed in terms of whether they reported intending to: evaluate interventions; engage Indigenous community members and organisations; and build research capacity among Indigenous people.
Seven policy changes over a period of five years were identified, including those to: establish an ethical approach to working with Indigenous people; increase the influence of Indigenous people within NHMRC; encourage priority research directed at improving Indigenous health; and recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research as a priority area including a commitment to an expenditure target of 5% of annual funds. Seven catalysts for this change were identified. These included: a perceived lack of effective response to the health needs of Indigenous people; a changed perception of the role of NHMRC in encouraging research to maximise health gains; and leadership within the organisation.
The case study analysis demonstrated that 45% of all People Support recipients intend to engage Indigenous community members and organisations in consultation, 26% included an evaluation of an intervention and two (6.5%) were granted to an individual from an Indigenous background. Six of seven Population Health Capacity Building Grants that were awarded to study Indigenous health between 2004 and 2006 included an intervention component; these grants supported 34 researchers from Indigenous backgrounds.
NHMRC made significant policy changes from 1997 to 2002 to better support Indigenous health as a result of external pressure and internal commitment.
The policy changes have made some progress in supporting better research models particularly in improving engagement with Indigenous communities. However, there remains a need for further reform to optimise research outcomes for Indigenous people from research.
Australian Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders (Indigenous Australians) smoke at much higher rates than non-Indigenous people and smoking is an important contributor to increased disease, hospital admissions and deaths in Indigenous Australian populations. Smoking cessation programs in Australia have not had the same impact on Indigenous smokers as on non-Indigenous smokers. This paper describes the protocol for a study that aims to test the efficacy of a locally-tailored, intensive, multidimensional smoking cessation program.
This study is a parallel, randomised, controlled trial. Participants are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers aged 16 years and over, who are randomly allocated to a 'control' or 'intervention' group in a 2:1 ratio. Those assigned to the 'intervention' group receive smoking cessation counselling at face-to-face visits, weekly for the first four weeks, monthly to six months and two monthly to 12 months. They are also encouraged to attend a monthly smoking cessation support group. The 'control' group receive 'usual care' (i.e. they do not receive the smoking cessation program). Aboriginal researchers deliver the intervention, the goal of which is to help Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders quit smoking. Data collection occurs at baseline (when they enrol) and at six and 12 months after enrolling. The primary outcome is self-reported smoking cessation with urinary cotinine confirmation at 12 months.
Stopping smoking has been described as the single most important individual change Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers could make to improve their health. Smoking cessation programs are a major priority in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and evidence for effective approaches is essential for policy development and resourcing. A range of strategies have been used to encourage Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders to quit smoking however there have been few good quality studies that show what approaches work best. More evidence of strategies that could work more widely in Indigenous primary health care settings is needed if effective policy is to be developed and implemented. Our project will make an important contribution in this area.
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12608000604303)
Indigenous; Aboriginal; Torres Strait Islander; Randomised controlled trial; Smoking cessation; Study protocol; Be Our Ally Beat Smoking (BOABS) Study
Australian federal and jurisdictional governments are implementing ambitious policy initiatives intended to improve health care access and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In this qualitative study we explored Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) staff views on factors needed to improve chronic care systems and assessed their relevance to the new policy environment.
Two theories informed the study: (1) ‘candidacy’, which explores “the ways in which people’s eligibility for care is jointly negotiated between individuals and health services”; and (2) kanyini or ‘holding’, a Central Australian philosophy which describes the principle and obligations of nurturing and protecting others. A structured health systems assessment, locally adapted from Chronic Care Model domains, was administered via group interviews with 37 health staff in six AMSs and one government Indigenous-led health service. Data were thematically analysed.
Staff emphasised AMS health care was different to private general practices. Consistent with kanyini, community governance and leadership, community representation among staff, and commitment to community development were important organisational features to retain and nurture both staff and patients. This was undermined, however, by constant fear of government funding for AMSs being withheld. Staff resourcing, information systems and high-level leadership were perceived to be key drivers of health care quality. On-site specialist services, managed by AMS staff, were considered an enabling strategy to increase specialist access. Candidacy theory suggests the above factors influence whether a service is ‘tractable’ and ‘navigable’ to its users. Staff also described entrenched patient discrimination in hospitals and the need to expend considerable effort to reinstate care. This suggests that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still constructed as ‘non-ideal users’ and are denied from being ‘held’ by hospital staff.
Some new policy initiatives (workforce capacity strengthening, improving chronic care delivery systems and increasing specialist access) have potential to address barriers highlighted in this study. Few of these initiatives, however, capitalise on the unique mechanisms by which AMSs ‘hold’ their users and enhance their candidacy to health care. Kanyini and candidacy are promising and complementary theories for conceptualising health care access and provide a potential framework for improving systems of care.
Tobacco smoking is a very significant behavioural risk factor for the health of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and is embedded as a social norm. With a focus on women of childbearing age, and men of similar age, this project aims to determine how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers assess smoking risks and how these assessments contribute to their intentions to quit. The findings from this pragmatic study should contribute to developing culturally targeted interventions.
Methods and analysis
A cross-sectional study using quantitative and qualitative data. A total of 120 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members aged 18–45 years will be recruited at community events and through an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS). Participants will be interviewed using a tablet computer or paper survey. The survey instrument uses modified risk behaviour scales, that is, the Risk Behaviour Diagnosis (RBD) scale and the Smoking Risk Assessment Target (SRAT) (adapted from the Risk Acceptance Ladder) to determine whether attitudes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers to health risk messages are predictors of intentions to quit smoking.
The questionnaire will be assessed for face and content validity with a panel of Indigenous community members. The internal consistency of the RBD subscales and their patterns of correlation will be explored. Multivariate analyses will examine predictors of intentions to quit. This will include demographics such as age, gender, nicotine dependence, household smoking rules and perceived threat from smoking and efficacy for quitting. The two risk-assessment scales will be examined to see whether participant responses are correlated.
Ethics and dissemination
The Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council Ethics Committee and university ethics committees approved the study. The results will be published in a peer-reviewed journal and a community report will be disseminated by the ACCHS, and at community forums.
Note about terminology
We use the term Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, except where previous research has reported findings from only one group for example, Aboriginal people. Indigenous is used here to refer to Indigenous peoples in the international context, and issues, policies or systems, for example, Indigenous health, Indigenous tobacco control.
PREVENTIVE MEDICINE; PUBLIC HEALTH
Diabetes mellitus is a serious and increasing health problem in Australia and is a designated national health priority. Diabetes and related conditions represent an even greater health burden among Indigenous Australians (Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders), but there are critical gaps in knowledge relating to the incidence and prevalence, aetiology, and prevention of diabetes in this group, including a lack of information on the burden of disease among Indigenous people in urban areas. The DRUID Study (Diabetes and Related conditions in Urban Indigenous people in the Darwin region) was designed to address this knowledge gap.
The study was conducted in a specified geographic area in and around Darwin, Australia. Eligible participants underwent a health examination, including collection of blood and urine samples, clinical and anthropometric measurements, and administration of questionnaires, with an additional assessment for people with diabetes. The study was designed to incorporate local Indigenous leadership, facilitate community engagement, and provide employment and training opportunities for local Indigenous people. A variety of recruitment methods were used. A total of 1,004 eligible people gave consent and provided at least one measurement. When compared with census data for the Indigenous population living in the study area, there was a marked under-representation of males, but no substantial differences in age, place of residence, Indigenous group, or household income. Early participants were more likely than later participants to have previously diagnosed diabetes.
Despite lower than anticipated recruitment, this is, to our knowledge, the largest study ever conducted on the health of Indigenous Australians living in urban areas, a group which comprises the majority of Australia's Indigenous population but about whose health and wellbeing relatively little is known. The study is well-placed to provide new information that can be used by policy makers and service providers to improve the delivery of services and programs that affect the health of Indigenous people. It also represents a valuable opportunity to establish an urban Indigenous cohort study, provided participants can be followed successfully over time.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders persistently experience a significantly lower standard of health in comparison to non-Indigenous Australians. The factors contributing to this disparity are complex and entrenched in a history of social inequality, disempowerment, poverty, dispossession and discrimination. Aboriginal medical services (AMS) provide a culturally appropriate alternative to mainstream medical services as a means to address this health disparity and also advocate for Indigenous rights and empowerment. This study provides a vignette of lay perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders accessing community and government controlled AMS in Brisbane, Queensland with the intention of identifying self-perceived health determinants to inform the post-2015 international development goals.
Focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews were held with clients of a government-controlled AMS and an Aboriginal community controlled health service (ACCHS) in order to identify their self-identified essential health needs. Conversations were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and de-identified for analysis. Common themes were identified to highlight important issues around community health needs, how they can be addressed and what lessons can be extended to inform the post-2015 development goals.
Findings and discussion
Participants acknowledge the complexity of health determinants faced by their peoples. Thematic analysis highlighted the pervasive influence of racism through many perceived health determinants; resulting in reduced healthcare seeking behaviour, unhealthy lifestyles and mental health issues. Participants emphasised the marked health improvements seen due to the establishment of Aboriginal medical services in their communities and the importance of the AMS’ role in addressing the negative effects of discrimination on Indigenous health.
It is concluded from this study that AMS are crucial in addressing the negative impacts of continued discrimination on Indigenous health by providing comprehensive, culturally appropriate, community empowering health services. Such services improve Indigenous healthcare seeking rates, provide invaluable health education services and address mental health concerns in communities and must be supported in order to address health inequalities in Australia. Community driven and culturally informed health services should be encouraged globally to address health disparities.
Discrimination; Indigenous; Aboriginal; Community controlled health services; Healthcare-seeking behaviour; Fear; Mental health; Australia
Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (Indigenous Australians) smoke at much higher rates than non-Indigenous people and smoking is an important contributor to increased disease, hospital admissions and deaths in Indigenous Australian populations. Smoking cessation programs in Australia have not had the same impact on Indigenous smokers as on non-Indigenous smokers. This paper describes the outcome of a study that aimed to test the efficacy of a locally-tailored, intensive, multidimensional smoking cessation program.
A randomised controlled trial of Aboriginal researcher delivered tailored smoking cessation counselling during face-to-face visits, aiming for weekly for the first four weeks, monthly to six months and two monthly to 12 months. The control (“usual care”) group received routine care relating to smoking cessation at their local primary health care service. Data collection occurred at enrolment, six and 12 months. The primary outcome was self-reported smoking cessation with urinary cotinine confirmation at final follow-up (median 13 (interquartile range 12–15) months after enrolment).
Participants in the intervention (n = 55) and usual care (n = 108) groups were similar in baseline characteristics, except the intervention group was slightly older. At final follow-up the smoking cessation rate for participants assigned to the intervention group (n = 6; 11%), while not statistically significant, was double that of usual care (n = 5; 5%; p = 0.131). A meta-analysis of these findings and a similarly underpowered but comparable study of pregnant Indigenous Australian women showed that Indigenous Australian participants assigned to the intervention groups were 2.4 times (95% CI, 1.01-5.5) as likely to quit as participants assigned to usual care.
Culturally appropriate, multi-dimensional Indigenous quit smoking programs can be successfully implemented in remote primary health care. Intensive one-on-one interventions with substantial involvement from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers are likely to be effective in these settings.
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12608000604303).
Indigenous; Aboriginal; Torres Strait Islander; Randomised controlled trial; Smoking cessation; Be Our Ally Beat Smoking (BOABS) Study
Paper-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health checks have promoted a preventive approach to primary care and provided data to support research at the Inala Indigenous Health Service, south-west Brisbane, Australia. Concerns about the limitations of paper-based health checks prompted us to change to a computerised system to realise potential benefits for clinical services and research capability. We describe the rationale, implementation and anticipated benefits of computerised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health checks in one primary health care setting.
In May 2010, the Inala Indigenous Health Service commenced a project to computerise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child, adult, diabetic, and antenatal health checks. The computerised health checks were launched in September 2010 and then evaluated for staff satisfaction, research consent rate and uptake. Ethical approval for health check data to be used for research purposes was granted in December 2010.
Three months after the September 2010 launch date, all but two health checks (378 out of 380, 99.5%) had been completed using the computerised system. Staff gave the system a median mark of 8 out of 10 (range 5-9), where 10 represented the highest level of overall satisfaction. By September 2011, 1099 child and adult health checks, 138 annual diabetic checks and 52 of the newly introduced antenatal checks had been completed. These numbers of computerised health checks are greater than for the previous year (2010) of paper-based health checks with a risk difference of 0.07 (95% confidence interval 0.05, 0.10). Additionally, two research projects based on computerised health check data were underway.
The Inala Indigenous Health Service has demonstrated that moving from paper-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health checks to a system using computerised health checks is feasible and can facilitate research. We expect computerised health checks will improve clinical care and continue to enable research projects using validated data, reflecting the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community’s priorities.
Computerised medical record systems; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health; Primary health care
Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of morbidity and mortality in Australia. Comprehensive tobacco control has reduced smoking rates in Australia from approximately 34 per cent in 1980 to 15 per cent in 2010. However, 46 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Indigenous Australians) smoke on a daily basis, more than double the rate of non-Indigenous Australians. The evidence of effective tobacco control strategies for Indigenous Australians is relatively scarce. The aim of this study is to (i) explore the influences of smoking in Indigenous Australian people and to (ii) help inform and evaluate a multi-component tobacco control strategy. The study aims to answer the following questions: - do individuals' social networks influence smoking behaviours; - is there an association between various social and cultural factors and being a smoker or non-smoker; and - does a multi-component tobacco control program impact positively on tobacco behaviours, attitudes and beliefs in Indigenous Australians.
Methods and design
Our prospective study will use a mixed-method approach (qualitative and quantitative), including a pre- and post-test evaluation of a tobacco control initiative. The study will explore the social and cultural context underlying Indigenous Australian tobacco use and associated factors which influence smoking behaviour. Primary data will be collected via a panel survey, interviews and focus groups. Secondary data will include de-identified PBS items related to smoking and also data collected from the Quitlines call service. Network analysis will be used to assess whether social networks influence smoking behaviours. For the survey, baseline differences will be tested using chi2 statistics for the categorical and dichotomous variables and t-tests for the continuous variables, where appropriate. Grounded theory will be used to analyse the interviews and focus groups. Local Aboriginal community controlled organisations will partner in the study.
Our study will explore the key factors, including the influence of social networks, that impact on tobacco use and the extent to which smoking behaviours transcend networks within the Indigenous Australian community in the ACT. This will add to the evidence-base, identifying influential factors to tobacco use and the effectiveness and influence of a multi-component tobacco control strategy.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience higher levels of psychological distress and mental ill health than their non-Indigenous counterparts, but underuse mental health services. Interventions are required to address the structural and functional access barriers that cause this underuse. In 2012, the Southern Queensland Centre of Excellence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care employed a psychologist and a social worker to integrate mental health care into its primary health care services. This research study examines the impact of this innovation.
A mixed-method research design was used whereby a series of qualitative open-ended interviews were conducted with 7 psychology clients, 5 social work clients, the practice dietician, and the social worker and psychologist. General practitioners, practice nurses, Aboriginal Health Workers and receptionists participated in 4 focus groups. Key themes were identified, discussed, refined and agreed upon by the research team. Occasions of service by the psychologist and social worker were reviewed and quantitative data presented.
Clients and staff were overwhelmingly positive about the inclusion of a psychologist and a social worker as core members of a primary health care team. In one-year, the psychologist and social worker recorded 537 and 447 occasions of service respectively, and referrals to a psychologist, psychiatrist, mental health worker or counsellor increased from 17 % of mental health clients in 2010 to 51 % in 2012. Increased access by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to mental health care was related to three main themes: (1) Responsiveness to community needs; (2) Trusted relationships; and (3) Shared cultural background and understanding. The holistic nature and cultural safety of the primary health care service, its close proximity to where most people lived and the existing trusted relationships were identified as key factors in decreasing barriers to access.
Improving social and emotional well-being is critical to addressing the health inequalities experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This study demonstrates the benefits for clients and health professionals of integrating culturally safe mental health services into primary health care.
Access; Cultural safety; Indigenous; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander; Mental health services; Primary health care; Integrated care; Qualitative research; Psychology; Social work
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians experience widespread socioeconomic disadvantage and health inequality. In an attempt to make Indigenous health research more culturally-appropriate, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have called for more attention to the concept of emotional and social wellbeing (ESWB). Although it has been widely recognised that ESWB is of crucial importance to the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, there is little consensus on how to measure in Indigenous populations, hampering efforts to better understand and improve the psychosocial determinants of health. This paper explores the policy and political context to this situation, and suggests ways to move forward. The second part of the paper explores how scales can be evaluated in a health research setting, including assessments of endorsement, discrimination, internal and external reliability.
We then evaluate the use of a measure of stressful life events, the Negative Life Events Scale (NLES), in two samples of Aboriginal people living in remote communities in the Northern Territory of Australia. We argue that the Negative Life Events Scale is a promising assessment of psychosocial wellbeing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. Evaluation of the scale and its performance in other samples of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations is imperative if we hope to develop better, rather than more, scales for measuring ESWB among Indigenous Australians. Only then will it be possible to establish standardized methods of measuring ESWB and develop a body of comparable literature that can guide both a better understanding of ESWB, and evaluation of interventions designed to improve the psychosocial health of Indigenous populations and decrease health inequalities.
This article outlines the meaningful participation of eight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members employed as community researchers investigating the impact of pandemic influenza in rural and remote Indigenous communities in Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation is now a requirement of health research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. There is a growing literature on the different approaches to such involvement. Fundamental to this literature is an acknowledgement that Indigenous communities are no longer prepared to be research objects for external, mostly non-Indigenous researchers, and demand a role in decisions about what is researched and how it will be researched. In this paper, we describe the protracted process for site identification and recruitment and training of community researchers. We focus on the backgrounds of the Indigenous researchers and their motivations for involvement, and the strengths and challenges posed by Indigenous people researching in their own communities. Throughout the paper our concern is to document how genuine participation and the building of research capacity can occur.
A key feature of the research was the employment, training and strengthening the capacity of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members in the role of community researchers. A series of training workshops were conducted in northern Australia and focussed on qualitative research methods, including data collection, data analysis and writing. The Indigenous researchers collected the community-based data, and worked in partnership with experienced academic researchers in the analysis and compilation of community reports. Parts of those community reports, as well as additional information supplied by the community researchers, forms the basis of this article. As the demand increases for involvement of Indigenous community members as researchers, focus needs to be paid to what constitutes meaningful participation. If active participation in all aspects of the research process is intended, this necessitates close attention to the knowledge and skills required for this to occur at every stage. Building research capacity means not simply equipping local people to undertake research on a particular project, but to have the knowledge and skills to undertake research in other areas.
There are considerable benefits for Indigenous people researching in their own communities. Most important for the community researchers on this project was the sense that they were doing important health work, not just conducting research. Given the persistent gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health, this is perhaps one of the most important contributions of this type of research. Whilst research outcomes are undoubtedly important, in many cases the process used is of greater importance.
Indigenous; Participatory action research; Aboriginal; Torres Strait Islander; Participation
The considerably lower average life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, compared with non-Aboriginal and non-Torres Strait Islander Australians, has been widely reported. Prevalence data for chronic disease and health risk factors are needed to provide evidence based estimates for Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders population health planning. Representative surveys for these populations are difficult due to complex methodology. The focus of this paper is to describe in detail the methodological challenges and resolutions of a representative South Australian Aboriginal population-based health survey.
Using a stratified multi-stage sampling methodology based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006 Census with culturally appropriate and epidemiological rigorous methods, 11,428 randomly selected dwellings were approached from a total of 209 census collection districts. All persons eligible for the survey identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and were selected from dwellings identified as having one or more Aboriginal person(s) living there at the time of the survey.
Overall, the 399 interviews from an eligible sample of 691 SA Aboriginal adults yielded a response rate of 57.7%. These face-to-face interviews were conducted by ten interviewers retained from a total of 27 trained Aboriginal interviewers. Challenges were found in three main areas: identification and recruitment of participants; interviewer recruitment and retainment; and using appropriate engagement with communities. These challenges were resolved, or at least mainly overcome, by following local protocols with communities and their representatives, and reaching agreement on the process of research for Aboriginal people.
Obtaining a representative sample of Aboriginal participants in a culturally appropriate way was methodologically challenging and required high levels of commitment and resources. Adhering to these principles has resulted in a rich and unique data set that provides an overview of the self-reported health status for Aboriginal people living in South Australia. This process provides some important principles to be followed when engaging with Aboriginal people and their communities for the purpose of health research.
Aboriginal health; Methodology; Recruitment; Population survey; Cultural appropriateness
Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are between two to five times more likely to die in childbirth than non-Aboriginal women, and two to three times more likely to have a low birthweight infant. Babies with a low birthweight are more likely to have chronic health problems in adult life. Currently, there is limited research evidence regarding effective interventions to inform new initiatives to strengthen antenatal care for Aboriginal families.
The Aboriginal Families Study is a cross sectional population-based study investigating the views and experiences of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women having an Aboriginal baby in the state of South Australia over a 2-year period. The primary aims are to compare the experiences and views of women attending standard models of antenatal care with those accessing care via Aboriginal Family Birthing Program services which include Aboriginal Maternal Infant Care (AMIC) Workers as members of the clinical team; to assess factors associated with early and continuing engagement with antenatal care; and to use the information to inform strengthening of services for Aboriginal families. Women living in urban, regional and remote areas of South Australia have been invited to take part in the study by completing a structured interview or, if preferred, a self-administered questionnaire, when their baby is between 4–12 months old.
Having a baby is an important life event in all families and in all cultures. How supported women feel during pregnancy, how women and families are welcomed by services, how safe they feel coming in to hospitals to give birth, and what happens to families during a hospital stay and in the early months after the birth of a new baby are important social determinants of maternal, newborn and child health outcomes. The Aboriginal Families Study builds on consultation with Aboriginal communities across South Australia. The project has been implemented with guidance from an Aboriginal Advisory Group keeping community and policy goals in mind right from the start. The results of the study will provide a unique resource to inform quality improvement and strengthening of services for Aboriginal families.
Antenatal care; Health inequalities; Indigenous health; Maternal health; Participatory research; Perinatal health outcomes
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the single greatest contributor to the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Our objective is to determine if holistic CVD risk assessment, introduced as part of the new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Adult Health Check (AHC), results in better identification of elevated CVD risk, improved delivery of preventive care for CVD and improvements in the CVD risk profile for Aboriginal adults in a remote community.
Interrupted time series study over six years in a remote primary health care (PHC) service involving Aboriginal adults identified with elevated CVD risk (N = 64). Several process and outcome measures were audited at 6 monthly intervals for three years prior to the AHC (the intervention) and three years following: (i) the proportion of guideline scheduled CVD preventive care services delivered, (ii) mean CVD medications prescribed and dispensed, (iii) mean PHC consultations, (iv) changes in participants' CVD risk factors and estimated absolute CVD risk and (v) mean number of CVD events and iatrogenic events.
Twenty-five percent of AHC participants were identified as having elevated CVD risk. Of these, 84% had not been previously identified during routine care. Following the intervention, there were significant improvements in the recorded delivery of preventive care services for CVD (30% to 53%), and prescription of CVD related medications (28% to 89%) (P < 0.001). Amongst participants there was a 20% relative reduction in estimated absolute CVD risk (P = 0.004) following the intervention. However, there were no significant changes in the mean number of PHC consultations or mean number of CVD events or iatrogenic events.
Holistic CVD risk assessment during an AHC can lead to better and earlier identification of elevated CVD risk, improvement in the recorded delivery of preventive care services for CVD, intensification of treatment for CVD, and improvements in participants' CVD risk profile. Further research is required on strategies to reorient and restructure PHC services to the care of chronic illness for Aboriginal peoples in remote areas for there to be substantial progress in decreasing excess CVD related mortality.
Health promotion by and with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (hereafter Indigenous) Australians is critically important given a wide gap in health parity compared to other Australians. The development and implementation of step-by-step guides, instruments, packages, frameworks or resources has provided a feasible and low-resource strategy for strengthening evidence-informed health promotion practice. Yet there has been little assessment of where and how these tools are implemented or their effectiveness. This paper reviews the characteristics, implementation and effects of Indigenous health promotion tools.
Indigenous health promotion tools were identified through a systematic literature search including a prior scoping study, eight databases, references of other reviews and the authors’ knowledge (n = 1494). Documents in the peer reviewed and grey literature were included if they described or evaluated tools designed, recommended or used for strengthening Indigenous Australian health promotion. Eligible publications were entered into an Excel spreadsheet and documented tools classified according to their characteristics, implementation and effects. Quality was appraised using the Dictionary for Effective Public Health Practice Project (EPHPP) and Critical Appraisal Skills Program (CASP) tools for quantitative and qualitative studies respectively.
The review found that Indigenous health promotion tools were widely available. Of 74 publications that met inclusion criteria, sixty (81%) documented tools developed specifically for the Indigenous Australian population. All tools had been developed in reference to evidence; but only 22/74 (30%) publications specified intended or actual implementation, and only 11/74 (15%) publications evaluated impacts of the implemented tools. Impacts included health, environmental, community, organisational and health care improvements. The quality of impact evaluations was strong for only five (7%) studies.
The small number and generally moderate quality of implementation and evaluation studies means that little is known about how tools work to strengthen Indigenous health promotion practice. The findings suggest that rather than continuing to invest in tool development, practitioners, policy makers and researchers could evaluate the implementation and effects of existing tools and publish the results. There is a need for long-term investment in research to review the current use of health promotion tools and the factors that are likely to enhance their implementation.
Health promotion; Indigenous; Tools; Guides; Instruments; Packages; Frameworks; Resources; Implementation; Evaluation
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have a higher prevalence and incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes than non-Indigenous Australian women. Physical inactivity is a key modifiable risk factor for obesity and evidence shows that even modest reductions in waist circumference (WC) have significant health benefits. Trialing physical activity programs in difficult-to-reach high risk groups, especially urban Indigenous Australians poses distinct implementation challenges.
The trial objective is to evaluate the effectiveness of a structured 12-week physical activity group program with nutritional advice. The design is a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. This study protocol describes the implementation and evaluation of the program. Participants are randomised into either an intervention or waitlisted group. The waitlisted group have a 12 month waiting period before commencing the 12-week program. Participant data is collected at baseline, 12, 24 and 52 weeks. Participants are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, aged 18-64 years with a waist circumference greater than 80 centimetres residing in Adelaide. The primary outcome measure is WC change immediately post program from baseline. Secondary outcomes include short term and long term changes in WC, weight, blood pressure, fasting blood glucose, insulin, insulin resistance (calculated HOMA), haemoglobin A1C (HbA1C), triglycerides and C-reactive protein (CRP). Behavioural and psychosocial surveys are administered to assess physical activity, dietary intake and the participant's motivation, self-efficacy and perceived social support for physical activity. Qualitative interviews focusing on participants' motivation, enablers and barriers to healthy eating and physical activity will be undertaken. Implementation fidelity and participation are also assessed.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Fitness Program (WFP) is designed to provide a rigorous physiological and client-based evaluation of a structured 12-week program aimed to increase metabolic fitness and reduce WC in this high risk population. Evaluation results aim to provide the support necessary to design programs that are accessible, affordable and effective at reducing WC, while also improving the metabolic profile of overweight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12610000224022
Regular cannabis use is associated with negative mental health impacts including psychosis, depression and anxiety. Rates of cannabis use have increased in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in northern Australia within the last two decades, presenting a significant increased risk to young people's mental health in these regions. Improved screening, early detection and treatment for cannabis-related mental health issues are urgently required. This paper describes a service-level action research intervention and evaluation protocol for use in the few services where it is possible to engage young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
The protocol is being developed in two services where youth mental health is core business: a primary healthcare centre and a youth service in the Cairns and hinterland region, far north Queensland. The protocol calls first for baseline data to be collected using staff and client surveys; network mapping; and analysis of screening, treatment and referral rates. The protocol's intervention phase is driven by service needs identified from baseline data. Intervention strategies focus on implementing/enhancing cannabis screening instruments and processes in line with current best practice; enhancing networks with external drug and mental health services; developing culturally acceptable training and resources; developing activities aiming to reduce cannabis use in young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients using the services. The protocol requires implementation of the multilevel intervention within each service for 1 year, with follow-up data then collected and compared to baseline. Process evaluation identifies the more effective intervention strategies and documents the challenges to be overcome for full implementation.
Ethics and dissemination
Ethics approval was provided by The James Cook University, Human Research Ethics Committee. Ethics Approval Number H5322. Peer-reviewed publications will also be used to disseminate the finding. Results will also be discussed with stakeholder organisations.
Guidelines recommend assessment of smoking status, with advice and support for smoking cessation, as a routine and integral part of antenatal care. Approximately 50% of pregnant Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women smoke through pregnancy, 3 times the rate of other pregnant Australian women. This study describes smoking cessation assessment and support reported by pregnant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
Surveys of 261 pregnant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in New South Wales and the Northern Territory, Australia assessed women’s reports of assessment, advice and support for smoking cessation from antenatal providers.
The majority of women (90%, 95% CI = 85, 93) reported being asked their smoking status; 81% (95% CI = 73, 87) of smokers reported being advised to stop smoking and 62% (95% CI = 53, 71) of smokers reported being offered support to quit.
Despite most pregnant women who smoke reporting advice and support to quit, the persisting high prevalence of smoking suggests that this support is insufficient to overcome the many factors pushing women to smoke. Improving the support provided to women will require empowering the antenatal providers with adequate skills, appropriate resources and effective interventions. Current guidelines are based on research from non-Indigenous populations, as there are no published effective interventions for Indigenous pregnant women. Trials of interventions designed specifically for pregnant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are urgently needed, as are approaches aimed at reducing uptake of smoking.
In Australia, higher rates of chronic hepatitis B (HBsAg) have been reported among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) compared with non-Indigenous people. In 2000, the Australian government implemented a universal infant/adolescent hepatitis B vaccination program. We undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the disparity of HBsAg prevalence between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, particularly since 2000.
We searched Medline, Embase and public health bulletins up to March 2011. We used meta-analysis methods to estimate HBsAg prevalence by Indigenous status and time period (before and since 2000).
There were 15 HBsAg prevalence estimates (from 12 studies) among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people; adults and pregnant women (n = 9), adolescents (n = 3), prisoners (n = 2), and infants (n = 1). Of these, only one subgroup (adults/pregnant women) involved studies before and since 2000 and formed the basis of the meta-analysis. Before 2000, the pooled HBsAg prevalence estimate was 6.47% (95% CI: 4.56-8.39); 16.72% (95%CI: 7.38-26.06) among Indigenous and 0.36% (95%CI:-0.14-0.86) in non-Indigenous adults/pregnant women. Since 2000, the pooled HBsAg prevalence was 2.25% (95% CI: 1.26-3.23); 3.96% (95%CI: 3.15-4.77) among Indigenous and 0.90% (95% CI: 0.53-1.28) in non-Indigenous adults/pregnant women.
The disparity of HBsAg prevalence between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people has decreased over time; particularly since the HBV vaccination program in 2000. However HBsAg prevalence remains four times higher among Indigenous compared with non-Indigenous people. The findings highlight the need for opportunistic HBV screening of Indigenous people to identify people who would benefit from vaccination or treatment.
Indigenous; HBV; Sexually transmissible infection; STI; Hepatitis
General Practitioner (GP) Supervisors have a key yet poorly defined role in
promoting the cultural competence of GP Registrars who provide healthcare to
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people during their training
placements. Given the markedly poorer health of Indigenous Australians, it
is important that GP training and supervision of Registrars includes
assessment and teaching which address the well documented barriers to
accessing health care.
A simulated consultation between a GP Registrar and an Aboriginal patient,
which illustrated inadequacies in communication and cultural awareness, was
viewed by GP Supervisors and Medical Educators during two workshops in 2012.
Participants documented teaching points arising from the consultation which
they would prioritise in supervision provided to the Registrar. Content
analysis was performed to determine the type and detail of the planned
feedback. Field notes from workshop discussions and participant evaluations
were used to gain insight into participant confidence in cross cultural
Sixty four of 75 GPs who attended the workshops participated in the research.
Although all documented plans for detailed teaching on the Registrar’s
generic communication and consultation skills, only 72% referred to culture
or to the patient’s Aboriginality. Few GPs (8%) documented a plan to
advise on national health initiatives supporting access for Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people. A lack of Supervisor confidence in providing
guidance on cross cultural consulting with Aboriginal patients was
The role of GP Supervisors in promoting the cultural competence of GP
Registrars consulting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients
could be strengthened. A sole focus on generic communication and
consultation skills may lead to inadequate consideration of the health
disparities faced by Indigenous peoples and of the need to ensure Registrars
utilise health supports designed to decrease the disadvantage faced by
Health Assessment (HA) items were introduced in 1999 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged at least 55 years and all Australians aged over 75 years. In 2004 a new item was introduced for HAs among adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15–54 years. The new item has been applauded as a major policy innovation however this enthusiasm has been tempered with concern about potential barriers to its uptake. In this study we aim to determine whether there are disparities in uptake of HA items for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to other Australians.
The analysis was based on Health Insurance Commission data. Indigenous status was ascertained based on the item number used. Logistic regression was used to compare uptake of HA items for older people among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to other Australians. Adjustments were made for dual eligibility. Uptake of the HA items for older people was compared to the uptake of the new item for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15–44 years.
Our analyses suggest a significant and persistent disparity in the uptake of items for older patients among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to other Australians. A similar disparity appears to exist in the uptake of the new adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HA item.
Further engagement of primary care providers and the community around the uptake of the new HA items may be required to ensure that the anticipated health benefits eventuate.
Ethnic minority groups are under-represented in mental health care services because of barriers such as poor mental health literacy. In 2007, the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program implemented a cultural adaptation of its first aid course to improve the capacity of Indigenous Australians to recognise and respond to mental health issues within their own communities. It became apparent that the content of this training would be improved by the development of best practice guidelines. This research aimed to develop culturally appropriate guidelines for providing first aid to an Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person who is experiencing a mental health crisis or developing a mental illness.
A panel of Australian Aboriginal people who are experts in Aboriginal mental health, participated in six independent Delphi studies investigating depression, psychosis, suicidal thoughts and behaviours, deliberate self-injury, trauma and loss, and cultural considerations. The panel varied in size across the studies, from 20-24 participants. Panellists were presented with statements about possible first aid actions via online questionnaires and were encouraged to suggest additional actions not covered by the survey content. Statements were accepted for inclusion in a guideline if they were endorsed by ≥ 90% of panellists as essential or important. Each study developed one guideline from the outcomes of three Delphi questionnaire rounds. At the end of the six Delphi studies, participants were asked to give feedback on the value of the project and their participation experience.
From a total of 1,016 statements shown to the panel of experts, 536 statements were endorsed (94 for depression, 151 for psychosis, 52 for suicidal thoughts and behaviours, 53 for deliberate self-injury, 155 for trauma and loss, and 31 for cultural considerations). The methodology and the guidelines themselves were found to be useful and appropriate by the panellists.
Aboriginal mental health experts were able to reach consensus about culturally appropriate first aid for mental illness. The Delphi consensus method could be useful more generally for consulting Indigenous peoples about culturally appropriate best practice in mental health services.
Burden of disease (BoD) studies have been conducted in numerous international settings since the early 1990’s. Two national BoD studies have been undertaken in Australia, in 1998 and 2003, although neither study estimated the BoD specifically for Indigenous Australians. In 2005 the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health formally commissioned the University of Queensland to undertake, in parallel with the second national BoD study, the “Burden of Disease and Injury in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples” study, drawing on available data up to 2003. This paper aims to explore the policy context and narrative in the lead up to commissioning the Indigenous BoD (IBoD) study, focusing on relevant contextual factors and insights regarding the perspectives of key stakeholders and their anticipated value of the study. It is part of a broader project that examines the uptake of evidence to policy, using the IBoD study as a case study.
A systematic review of the literature was undertaken in late 2013 and early 2014, and the findings triangulated with 38 key informant interviews with Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics, researchers, statisticians, policy advisors, and policymakers, conducted between 2011 and 2013.
Contextual features which led to commissioning the IBoD study included widespread recognition of longstanding Indigenous disadvantage, lower life expectancy than non-Indigenous Australians, and the lack of an adequate evidence base upon which to determine priorities for interventions. Several anticipated benefits and expectations of key stakeholders were identified. Most informants held at least one of the following expectations of the study: that it would inform the evidence base, contribute to priority setting, and/or inform policy. There were differing or entirely contrasting views to this however, with some sharing concerns about the study being undertaken at all.
The IBoD study, in concept, offered the potential to generate much desired ‘answers’, in the form of a quantified ranking of health risks and disease burden, and it was hoped by many that the results of the study would feed into determining priorities and informing Indigenous health policy.
Australia; Burden of Disease; Health policy; Indigenous disadvantage; Research translation
Statistical time series derived from administrative data sets form key indicators in measuring progress in addressing disadvantage in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations in Australia. However, inconsistencies in the reporting of Indigenous status can cause difficulties in producing reliable indicators. External data sources, such as survey data, provide a means of assessing the consistency of administrative data and may be used to adjust statistics based on administrative data sources.
We used record linkage between a large-scale survey (the Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey), and two administrative data sources (the Western Australia (WA) Register of Births and the WA Midwives’ Notification System) to compare the degree of consistency in determining Indigenous status of children between the two sources. We then used a logistic regression model predicting probability of consistency between the two sources to estimate the probability of each record on the two administrative data sources being identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in a survey. By summing these probabilities we produced model-adjusted time series of neonatal outcomes for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander births.
Compared to survey data, information based only on the two administrative data sources identified substantially fewer Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander births. However, these births were not randomly distributed. Births of children identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in the survey only were more likely to be living in urban areas, in less disadvantaged areas, and to have only one parent who identifies as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin, particularly the father. They were also more likely to have better health and wellbeing outcomes. Applying an adjustment model based on the linked survey data increased the estimated number of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander births in WA by around 25%, however this increase was accompanied by lower overall proportions of low birth weight and low gestational age babies.
Record linkage of survey data to administrative data sets is useful to validate the quality of recording of demographic information in administrative data sources, and such information can be used to adjust for differential identification in administrative data.