Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) populations have disproportionately high rates of adverse perinatal outcomes relative to other Australians. Poorer access to good quality maternal health care is a key driver of this disparity. The aim of this study was to describe patterns of delivery of maternity care and service gaps in primary care services in Australian Indigenous communities.
We undertook a cross-sectional baseline audit for a quality improvement intervention. Medical records of 535 women from 34 Indigenous community health centres in five regions (Top End of Northern Territory 13, Central Australia 2, Far West New South Wales 6, Western Australia 9, and North Queensland 4) were audited. The main outcome measures included: adherence to recommended protocols and procedures in the antenatal and postnatal periods including: clinical, laboratory and ultrasound investigations; screening for gestational diabetes and Group B Streptococcus; brief intervention/advice on health-related behaviours and risks; and follow up of identified health problems.
The proportion of women presenting for their first antenatal visit in the first trimester ranged from 34% to 49% between regions; consequently, documentation of care early in pregnancy was poor. Overall, documentation of routine antenatal investigations and brief interventions/advice regarding health behaviours varied, and generally indicated that these services were underutilised. For example, 46% of known smokers received smoking cessation advice/counselling; 52% of all women received antenatal education and 51% had investigation for gestational diabetes. Overall, there was relatively good documentation of follow up of identified problems related to hypertension or diabetes, with over 70% of identified women being referred to a GP/Obstetrician.
Participating services had both strengths and weaknesses in the delivery of maternal health care. Increasing access to evidence-based screening and health information (most notably around smoking cessation) were consistently identified as opportunities for improvement across services.
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.
European settlers in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand each developed similar policies in dealing with the indigenous peoples of the land they colonized. As a result of contact with the Europeans, these peoples experinced dispossession, deprivation, and demographic decline. Their morbidity and mortality retes are consistently higher than those of the nonindigenous population. To achieve further improvement in their health status, indigenous peoples must begin to play a dominant role in the planning and delivery of health care services.
Indigenous peoples have worse health than non-Indigenous, are over-represented amongst the poor and disadvantaged, have lower life expectancies, and success in improving disparities is limited. To address this, research usually focuses on disadvantaged and marginalised groups, offering only partial understanding of influences underpinning slow progress. Critical analysis is also required of those with the power to perpetuate or improve health inequities. In this paper, using Australia as a case example, we explore the effects of ‘White’, Anglo-Australian cultural dominance in health service delivery to Indigenous Australians. We address the issue using race as an organising principle, underpinned by relations of power.
Interviews with non-Indigenous medical practitioners in Western Australia with extensive experience in Indigenous health encouraged reflection and articulation of their insights into factors promoting or impeding quality health care to Indigenous Australians. Interviews were audio-taped and transcribed. An inductive, exploratory analysis identified key themes that were reviewed and interrogated in light of existing literature on health care to Indigenous people, race and disadvantage. The researchers’ past experience, knowledge and understanding of health care and Indigenous health assisted with data interpretation. Informal discussions were also held with colleagues working professionally in Indigenous policy, practice and community settings.
Racism emerged as a key issue, leading us to more deeply interrogate the role ‘Whiteness’ plays in Indigenous health care. While Whiteness can refer to skin colour, it also represents a racialized social structure where Indigenous knowledge, beliefs and values are subjugated to the dominant western biomedical model in policy and practice. Racism towards Indigenous patients in health services was institutional and interpersonal. Internalised racism was manifest when Indigenous patients incorporated racist attitudes and beliefs into their lived experience, lowering expectations and their sense of self-worth.
Current health policies and practices favour standardised care where the voice of those who are marginalised is often absent. Examining the effectiveness of such models in reducing health disparities requires health providers to critically reflect on whether policies and practices promote or compromise Indigenous health and wellbeing - an important step in changing the discourse that places Indigenous people at the centre of the problem.
Acute respiratory illness (ARI) is the most common cause of acute presentations and hospitalisations of young Indigenous children in Australia and New Zealand (NZ). Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) from household smoking is a significant and preventable contributor to childhood ARI. This paper describes the protocol for a study which aims to test the efficacy of a family-centred tobacco control program about ETS to improve the respiratory health of Indigenous infants in Australia and New Zealand. For the purpose of this paper 'Indigenous' refers to Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples when referring to Australian Indigenous populations. In New Zealand, the term 'Indigenous' refers to Māori.
This study will be a parallel, randomized, controlled trial. Participants will be Indigenous women and their infants, half of whom will be randomly allocated to an 'intervention' group, who will receive the tobacco control program over three home visits in the first three months of the infant's life and half to a control group receiving 'usual care' (i.e. they will not receive the tobacco control program). Indigenous health workers will deliver the intervention, the goal of which is to reduce or eliminate infant exposure to ETS. Data collection will occur at baseline (shortly after birth) and when the infant is four months and one year of age. The primary outcome is a doctor-diagnosed, documented case of respiratory illness in participating infants.
Interventions aimed at reducing exposure of Indigenous children to ETS have the potential for significant benefits for Indigenous communities. There is currently a dearth of evidence for the effect of tobacco control interventions to reduce children's exposure to ETS among Indigenous populations. This study will provide high-quality evidence of the efficacy of a family-centred tobacco control program on ETS to reduce respiratory illness. Outcomes of our study will be important and significant for Indigenous tobacco control in Australia and New Zealand and prevention of respiratory illness in children.
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12609000937213)
Aboriginal Australian children experience profound oral health disparities relative to their non-Aboriginal counterparts. In response to community concerns regarding Aboriginal child oral health in the regional town of Port Augusta, South Australia, a child dental health service was established within a Community Controlled Aboriginal Health Service. A partnership approach was employed with the key aims of (1) quantifying rates of dental service utilisation, (2) identifying factors influencing participation, and (3) planning and establishing a program for delivery of Aboriginal children's dental services that would increase participation and adapt to community needs. In planning the program, levels of participation were quantified and key issues identified through semistructured interviews. After 3.5 years, the participation rate for dental care among the target population increased from 53 to 70 percent. Key areas were identified to encourage further improvements and ensure sustainability in Aboriginal child oral health in this regional location.
Aboriginal Australians experience poorer outcomes, and are 2.5 times more likely to die from cancer than non-Aboriginal people, even after adjustment for stage of diagnosis, cancer treatment and comorbidities. They are also less likely to present early as a result of symptoms and to access treatment. Psycho-social factors affect Aboriginal people's willingness and ability to participate in cancer-related screening and treatment services, but little exploration of this has occurred within Australia to date. The current research adopted a phenomenological qualitative approach to understand and explore the lived experiences of Aboriginal Australians with cancer and their beliefs and understanding around this disease in Western Australia (WA). This paper details considerations in the design and process of conducting the research.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines for ethical conduct of Aboriginal research were followed. Researchers acknowledged the past negative experiences of Aboriginal people with research and were keen to build trust and relationships prior to conducting research with them. Thirty in-depth interviews with Aboriginal people affected by cancer and twenty with health service providers were carried out in urban, rural and remote areas of WA. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and coded independently by two researchers. NVivo7 software was used to assist data management and analysis. Participants' narratives were divided into broad categories to allow identification of key themes and discussed by the research team.
Discussion and conclusion
Key issues specific to Aboriginal research include the need for the research process to be relationship-based, respectful, culturally appropriate and inclusive of Aboriginal people. Researchers are accountable to both participants and the wider community for reporting their findings and for research translation so that the research outcomes benefit the Aboriginal community. There are a number of factors that influence whether the desired level of engagement can be achieved in practice. These include the level of resourcing for the project and the researchers' efforts to ensure dissemination and research translation; and the capacity of the Aboriginal community to engage with research given other demands upon their time.
Aboriginal Australians, one of the world’s indigenous peoples now outnumbered through colonization, are the most under-represented in genetic research because they feel that the benefits do not outweigh the social cost of involvement. Descendants of the First Australians have survived a period of European occupation during which time they were dispossessed of land, language and cultural identity resulting in inequities in health, education, and employment opportunities. Compared to Maori and Native American peoples, the ability to form organizations that help to control their affairs is very recent. The desire to control is understandably strong yet the ‘gate-keeping’ role of some organizations risks shifting the control away from smaller communities and has become increasingly politicized. In the past, research practices by Western scientists were poorly presented and have resulted in resistance to proposals that are perceived to have no beneficial outcomes for participants. In this age of advanced technological expertise in genetics, benefits to all humanity are clear to those carrying out research projects, yet not always to those being asked to participate, presenting extra challenges. Excellent guidelines for ethical conduct in research are available to assist researchers, prospective participants, and ethics committees or review boards that approve and monitor procedures. The essence of these guidelines are that research should be carried out with a spirit of integrity, respect, reciprocity, parity, recognition of survival and protection of social and cultural values, a need for control and shared responsibility. Specific Aboriginal organizations, with which researchers need to work to negotiate partnerships, vary within and between Australian states and will always expect Aboriginal personnel to be involved. People experienced in the consultation process are necessary as part of a team. By working patiently through lengthy negotiations with Aboriginal Australians, scientists can achieve valuable results, but failure to do so with respect and understanding will not yield hoped for outcomes. My own experience working with communities in the Darling River region of western New South Wales has been an enriching and rewarding one, with a long period of successful research lately delayed by increased expectation of monitoring and involvement at state level.
Aboriginal; Australia; Colonization; Dispossession; Genetic; Ethics; Resistance
Disseminating national health and alcohol policies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia has been a challenging task for governments and public servants. This has been for a number of reasons, including the enduring (negative) legacy of past “Aboriginal affairs” policies, the fact that Indigenous health programmes and alcohol programmes have been treated separately since the 1970s, and a more recent context in which the recognition of cultural difference was privileged. Confronted with the politics of difference, health departments were slow to examine avenues through which best practice advice emanating from WHO, and alcohol policies such as harm minimisation and early identification and treatment in primary health care, could be communicated in culturally recognisable ways to independent Indigenous services. In addition, there was hostility towards harm minimisation policies from Indigenous service providers, and Indigenous treatment programmes remained largely committed to abstinence‐oriented modalities and the disease model of alcoholism, despite moves away from these approaches in the mainstream. However, genuinely innovative acute interventions and environmental controls over alcohol have been developed by Indigenous community‐based organisations, approaches that are reinforced by international policy research evidence.
Indigenous people; alcohol policy; public health policy
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.
Indigenous Australians suffer substantially poorer oral health than their non-Indigenous counterparts and new approaches are needed to address these disparities. Previous work in Port Augusta, South Australia, a regional town with a large Indigenous community, revealed associations between low oral health literacy scores and self-reported oral health outcomes. This study aims to determine if implementation of a functional, context-specific oral health literacy intervention improves oral health literacy-related outcomes measured by use of dental services, and assessment of oral health knowledge, oral health self-care and oral health- related self-efficacy.
This is a randomised controlled trial (RCT) that utilises a delayed intervention design. Participants are Indigenous adults, aged 18 years and older, who plan to reside in Port Augusta or a nearby community for the next two years. The intervention group will receive the intervention from the outset of the study while the control group will be offered the intervention 12 months following their enrolment in the study. The intervention consists of a series of five culturally sensitive, oral health education workshops delivered over a 12 month period by Indigenous project officers. Workshops consist of presentations, hands-on activities, interactive displays, group discussions and role plays. The themes addressed in the workshops are underpinned by oral health literacy concepts, and incorporate oral health-related self-efficacy, oral health-related fatalism, oral health knowledge, access to dental care and rights and entitlements as a patient. Data will be collected through a self-report questionnaire at baseline, at 12 months and at 24 months. The primary outcome measure is oral health literacy. Secondary outcome measures include oral health knowledge, oral health self-care, use of dental services, oral health-related self-efficacy and oral health-related fatalism.
This study uses a functional, context-specific oral health literacy intervention to improve oral health literacy-related outcomes amongst rural-dwelling Indigenous adults. Outcomes of this study will have implications for policy and planning by providing evidence for the effectiveness of such interventions as well as provide a model for working with Indigenous communities.
Comparisons of birth outcomes between Australian Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations show marked inequalities. These comparisons obscure Indigenous disparities. There is much variation in terms of culture, language, residence, and access to services amongst Australian Indigenous peoples. We examined outcomes by region and remoteness for Indigenous subgroups and explored data for communities to inform health service delivery and interventions.
Our population-based study examined maternal and neonatal outcomes for 7,560 mothers with singleton pregnancies from Australia’s Northern Territory Midwives’ Data Collection (2003–2005) using uni- and multivariate analyses. Groupings were by Indigenous status; region (Top End (TE)/Central Australia (CA)); Remote/Urban residence; and across two large TE communities.
Of the sample, 34.1% were Indigenous women, of whom 65.6% were remote-dwelling versus 6.7% of non-Indigenous women. In comparison to CA Urban mothers: TE Remote (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 1.47, 95%CI: 1.13, 1.90) and TE Urban mothers (aOR 1.36 (95% CI: 1.02, 1.80) were more likely, but CA Remote mothers (aOR 0.43; 95% CI: 0.31, 0.58) less likely to smoke during pregnancy; CA Remote mothers giving birth at >32 weeks gestation were less likely to have attended ≥ five antenatal visits (aOR 0.55; 95%CI: 0.36, 0.86); TE Remote (aOR 0.71; 95%CI: 0.53, 0.95) and CA Remote women (aOR 0.68; 95%CI: 0.49, 0.95) who experienced labour had lower odds of epidural/spinal/narcotic pain relief; and TE Remote (aOR 0.47; 95%CI: 0.34, 0.66), TE Urban (aOR 0.67; 95%CI: 0.46, 0.96) and CA Remote mothers (aOR 0.52; 95%CI: 0.35, 0.76) all had lower odds of having a ‘normal’ birth. The aOR for preterm birth for TE Remote newborns was 2.09 (95%CI: 1.20, 3.64) and they weighed 137 g (95%CI: -216 g, -59 g) less than CA Urban babies. There were few significant differences for communities, except for smoking prevalence.
This paper is one of few quantifying inequalities between groups of Australian Indigenous women and newborns at a regional level. Indigenous mothers and newborns do worse on some outcomes if they live remotely, especially if they live in the TE. Smoking prevention and high-quality antenatal care is fundamental to addressing many of the adverse outcomes identified in this paper.
Indigenous; Remote; Maternal; Neonatal; Inequalities
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.
Little is known about the use of bush medicine and traditional healing among Aboriginal Australians for their treatment of cancer and the meanings attached to it. A qualitative study that explored Aboriginal Australians' perspectives and experiences of cancer and cancer services in Western Australia provided an opportunity to analyse the contemporary meanings attached and use of bush medicine by Aboriginal people with cancer in Western Australia
Data collection occurred in Perth, both rural and remote areas and included individual in-depth interviews, observations and field notes. Of the thirty-seven interviews with Aboriginal cancer patients, family members of people who died from cancer and some Aboriginal health care providers, 11 participants whose responses included substantial mention on the issue of bush medicine and traditional healing were selected for the analysis for this paper.
The study findings have shown that as part of their healing some Aboriginal Australians use traditional medicine for treating their cancer. Such healing processes and medicines were preferred by some because it helped reconnect them with their heritage, land, culture and the spirits of their ancestors, bringing peace of mind during their illness. Spiritual beliefs and holistic health approaches and practices play an important role in the treatment choices for some patients.
Service providers need to acknowledge and understand the existence of Aboriginal knowledge (epistemology) and accept that traditional healing can be an important addition to an Aboriginal person's healing complementing Western medical treatment regimes. Allowing and supporting traditional approaches to treatment reflects a commitment by modern medical services to adopting an Aboriginal-friendly approach that is not only culturally appropriate but assists with the cultural security of the service.
In this paper I will describe some of the sentinel events in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health policy and strategy during 2003 and the early part of 2004. This will involve discussion on the:
• National Strategic Framework in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health
• National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Mental Health and Social and Emotional Well Being 2004–2009
• National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework
• The roll-out of the Primary Health Care Access Program
• The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey and the National Indigenous Health Survey
These developments are consistent with a policy agenda that has evolved, in general terms, since the release of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy in 1989. However, I will also consider significant developments in the broader context for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, particularly the decision made in early 2004 by the Howard government to abolish the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). While the key events and developments that are reported in this paper elaborate on an agenda that has been developing for more than a decade, the decision to abolish ATSIC is likely to have a revolutionary impact on the future development of Aboriginal health strategy.
The burden of mental health problems among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is a major public health problem in Australia. While socioeconomic factors are implicated as important determinants of mental health problems in mainstream populations, their bearing on the mental health of Indigenous Australians remains largely uncharted across all age groups.
We examined the relationship between the risk of clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties (CSEBD) and a range of socioeconomic measures for 3993 Indigenous children aged 4–17 years in Western Australia, using a representative survey conducted in 2000–02. Analysis was conducted using multivariate logistic regression within a multilevel framework.
Almost one quarter (24%) of Indigenous children were classified as being at high risk of CSEBD. Our findings generally indicate that higher socioeconomic status is associated with a reduced risk of mental health problems in Indigenous children. Housing quality and tenure and neighbourhood-level disadvantage all have a strong direct effect on child mental health. Further, the circumstances of families with Indigenous children (parenting quality, stress, family composition, overcrowding, household mobility, racism and family functioning) emerged as an important explanatory mechanism underpinning the relationship between child mental health and measures of material wellbeing such as carer employment status and family financial circumstances.
Our results provide incremental evidence of a social gradient in the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Improving the social, economic and psychological conditions of families with Indigenous children has considerable potential to reduce the mental health inequalities within Indigenous populations and, in turn, to close the substantial racial gap in mental health. Interventions that target housing quality, home ownership and neighbourhood-level disadvantage are likely to be particularly beneficial.
Socioeconomic; Social disparities; Social gradient; Aboriginal; Mental health; Indigenous; Inequality; Australia
Missing or incorrect Indigenous status in health records hinders monitoring of Indigenous health indicators. Linkage of administrative data has been used to improve the ascertainment of Indigenous status. Data linkage was pioneered in Western Australia (WA) and is now being used in other Australian states. This systematic review appraises peer-reviewed Australian studies that used data linkage to elucidate the impact of under-ascertainment of Indigenous status on health indicators.
A PubMed search identified eligible studies that used Australian linked data to interrogate Indigenous identification using more than one identifier and interrogated the impact of the different identifiers on estimation of Indigenous health indicators.
Eight papers were included, five from WA and three from New South Wales (NSW). The WA papers included a self-identified Indigenous community cohort and showed improved identification in hospital separation data after 2000. In CVD hospitalised patients (2000–05), under-identification was greater in urban residents, older people and socially more advantaged Indigenous people, with varying algorithms giving different estimates of under-count. Age-standardised myocardial infarction incidence rates (2000–2004) increased by about 10%-15% with improved identification. Under-ascertainment of Indigenous identification overestimated secular improvements in life expectancy and mortality whereas correcting infectious disease notifications resulted in lower Indigenous/ non-Indigenous rate ratios. NSW has a history of poor Indigenous identification in administrative data systems, but the NSW papers confirmed the usefulness of data linkage for improving Indigenous identification and the potential for very different estimates of Indigenous disease indicators depending upon the algorithm used for identification.
Under-identification of Indigenous status must be addressed in health analyses concerning Indigenous health differentials – they cannot be ignored or wished away. This problem can be substantially diminished through data linkage. Under-identification of Indigenous status impacts differently in different disease contexts, generally resulting in under-estimation of absolute and relative Indigenous health indicators, but may perversely overestimate Indigenous rates and differentials in the setting of stigma-associated conditions such as sexually-transmitted and blood-borne virus infections. Under-numeration in Census surveys also needs consideration to address the added problem of denominator undercounts.
Despite large disparities in health outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, detailed evidence on the health and lifestyle characteristics of older Aboriginal Australians is lacking. The aim of this study is to quantify socio-demographic and health risk factors and mental and physical health status among Aboriginal participants from the 45 and Up Study and to compare these with non-Aboriginal participants from the study.
The 45 and Up Study is a large-scale study of individuals aged 45 years and older from the general population of New South Wales, Australia responding to a baseline questionnaire distributed from 2006–2008. Odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) of self-reported responses from the baseline questionnaire for Aboriginal versus non-Aboriginal participants relating to socio-demographic factors, health risk factors, current and past medical and surgical history, physical disability, functional health limitations and levels of current psychological distress were calculated using unconditional logistic regression, with adjustments for age and sex.
Overall, 1939 of 266,661 45 and Up Study participants examined in this study identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander (0.7%). Compared to non-Aboriginal participants, Aboriginal participants were significantly more likely to be: younger (mean age 58 versus 63 years); without formal educational qualifications (age- and sex- adjusted OR = 6.2, 95% CI 5.3-7.3); of unemployed (3.7, 2.9-4.6) or disabled (4.6, 3.9-5.3) work status; and with a household income < $20,000/year versus ≥ $70,000/year (5.8, 5.0-6.9). Following additional adjustment for income and education, Aboriginal participants were significantly more likely than non-Aboriginal participants to: be current smokers (2.4, 2.0-2.8), be obese (2.1, 1.8-2.5), have ever been diagnosed with certain medical conditions (especially: diabetes [2.1, 1.8-2.4]; depression [1.6, 1.4-1.8] and stroke [1.8, 1.4-2.3]), have care-giving responsibilities (1.8, 1.5-2.2); have a major physical disability (2.6, 2.2-3.1); have severe physical functional limitation (2.9, 2.4-3.4) and have very high levels of psychological distress (2.4, 2.0-3.0).
Aboriginal participants from the 45 and Up Study experience greater levels of disadvantage and have greater health needs (including physical disability and psychological distress) compared to non-Aboriginal participants. The study highlights the need to address the social determinants of health in Australia and to provide appropriate mental health services and disability support for older Aboriginal people.
Aboriginal Australians; Torres Strait Islanders; 45 and Up study
Aboriginal Australians suffer from poorer overall health compared to the general Australian population, particularly in terms of cardiovascular disease and prognosis following a cardiac event. Despite such disparities, Aboriginal Australians utilise health care services at much lower rates than the general population. Improving health care utilisation (HCU) among Aboriginal cardiac patients requires a better understanding of the factors that constrain or facilitate use. The study aimed to identify ecological factors influencing health care utilisation (HCU) for Aboriginal cardiac patients, from the time of their cardiac event to 6–12 months post-event, in central Australia.
This qualitative descriptive study was guided by an ecological framework. A culturally-sensitive illness narrative focusing on Aboriginal cardiac patients’ “typical” journey guided focus groups and semi-structured interviews with Aboriginal cardiac patients, non-cardiac community members, health care providers and community researchers. Analysis utilised a thematic conceptual matrix and mixed coding method. Themes were categorised into Predisposing, Enabling, Need and Reinforcing factors and identified at Individual, Interpersonal, Primary Care and Hospital System levels.
Compelling barriers to HCU identified at the Primary Care and Hospital System levels included communication, organisation and racism. Individual level factors related to HCU included language, knowledge of illness, perceived need and past experiences. Given these individual and health system barriers patients were reliant on utilising alternate family-level supports at the Interpersonal level to enable their journey.
Aboriginal cardiac patients face significant barriers to HCU, resulting in sub-optimal quality of care, placing them at risk for subsequent cardiovascular events and negative health outcomes. To facilitate HCU amongst Aboriginal people, strategies must be implemented to improve communication on all levels and reduce systemic barriers operating within the health system.
Health care utilisation; Facilitators/barriers to care; Cardiovascular disease; Indigenous; Aboriginal
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.
Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand consistently place near the top of the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index (HDI) rankings, yet all have minority Indigenous populations with much poorer health and social conditions than non-Indigenous peoples. It is unclear just how the socioeconomic and health status of Indigenous peoples in these countries has changed in recent decades, and it remains generally unknown whether the overall conditions of Indigenous peoples are improving and whether the gaps between Indigenous peoples and other citizens have indeed narrowed. There is unsettling evidence that they may not have. It was the purpose of this study to determine how these gaps have narrowed or widened during the decade 1990 to 2000.
Census data and life expectancy estimates from government sources were used to adapt the Human Development Index (HDI) to examine how the broad social, economic, and health status of Indigenous populations in these countries have changed since 1990. Three indices – life expectancy, educational attainment, and income – were combined into a single HDI measure.
Between 1990 and 2000, the HDI scores of Indigenous peoples in North America and New Zealand improved at a faster rate than the general populations, closing the gap in human development. In Australia, the HDI scores of Indigenous peoples decreased while the general populations improved, widening the gap in human development. While these countries are considered to have high human development according to the UNDP, the Indigenous populations that reside within them have only medium levels of human development.
The inconsistent progress in the health and well-being of Indigenous populations over time, and relative to non-Indigenous populations, points to the need for further efforts to improve the social, economic, and physical health of Indigenous peoples.
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.
As with many Indigenous peoples, smoking rates among Aboriginal Australians are considerably higher than those of the non-Indigenous population. Approximately 50% of Indigenous women smoke during pregnancy, a time when women are more motivated to quit. Antenatal care providers are potentially important change agents for reducing the harms associated with smoking, yet little is known about their knowledge, attitudes or skills, or the factors associated with providing smoking cessation advice.
This paper aimed to explore the knowledge and attitudes of health care providers caring for pregnant Australian Aboriginal women with regard to smoking risks and cessation; and to identify factors associated with self-reported assessment of smoking. A cross-sectional survey was undertaken with 127 staff providing antenatal care to Aboriginal women from two jurisdictions: the Northern Territory and New South Wales, Australia. Measures included respondents' estimate of the prevalence of smoking among pregnant women; optimal and actual assessment of smoking status; knowledge of risks associated with antenatal smoking; knowledge of smoking cessation; attitudes to providing cessation advice to pregnant women; and perceived barriers and motivators for cessation for pregnant women.
The median provider estimate of the smoking prevalence was 69% (95%CI: 60,70). The majority of respondents considered assessment of smoking status to be integral to antenatal care and a professional responsibility. Most (79%) indicated that they assess smoking status in 100% of clients. Knowledge of risks was generally good, but knowledge of cessation was poor. Factors independently associated with assessing smoking status among all women were: employer service type (p = 0.025); cessation knowledge score (p = 0.011); and disagreeing with the statement that giving advice is not worth it given the low level of success (p = 0.011).
Addressing knowledge of smoking risks and cessation counselling is a priority and should improve both confidence and ability, and increase the frequency and effectiveness of counselling. The health system must provide supports to providers through appropriate policy and resourcing, to enable them to address this issue.
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
Cardiovascular disease is the major cause of premature death of Indigenous Australians, and despite evidence that cardiac rehabilitation (CR) and secondary prevention can reduce recurrent disease and deaths, CR uptake is suboptimal. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines Strengthening Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, published in 2005, provide checklists for services to assist them to reduce the service gap for Indigenous people. This study describes health professionals' awareness, implementation, and perspectives of barriers to implementation of these guidelines based on semi-structured interviews conducted between November 2007 and June 2008 with health professionals involved in CR within mainstream health services in Western Australia (WA). Twenty-four health professionals from 17 services (10 rural, 7 metropolitan) listed in the WA Directory of CR services were interviewed.
The majority of respondents reported that they were unfamiliar with the NHMRC guidelines and as a consequence implementation of the recommendations was minimal and inconsistently applied. Respondents reported that they provided few in-patient CR-related services to Indigenous patients, services upon discharge were erratic, and they had few Indigenous-specific resources for patients. Issues relating to workforce, cultural competence, and service linkages emerged as having most impact on design and delivery of CR services for Indigenous people in WA.
This study has demonstrated limited awareness and poor implementation in WA of the recommendations of the NHMRC Strengthening Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples: A Guide for Health Professionals. The disproportionate burden of CVD morbidity and mortality among Indigenous Australians mandates urgent attention to this problem and alternative approaches to CR delivery. Dedicated resources and alternative approaches to CR delivery for Indigenous Australians are needed.