Close the Gap first came into the consciousness of non-Indigenous Australians in 2008 when the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) set six ambitious targets to address the disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians in life expectancy, child mortality, education and employment.
Closing the Gap would go on to become a long-term strategy committing the Commonwealth, States and Territories to unprecedented levels of investment to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage. One organisation that quickly mobilised as a result of the Close the Gap initiative was the Remote Area Health Corps (RAHC).
RAHC was established in October 2008, and its job was to “address persistent challenges to accessing primary healthcare services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait people in the Northern Territory”. To do this, RAHC set about recruiting, culturally orientating and deploying urban-based health professionals (HPs) across remote Indigenous communities.
The types of HPs participating in the scheme included general practitioners, registered nurses and midwives, dental health and allied health professionals. RAHC would then provide ongoing support and training to successfully assist HPs to make the transition into remote practice. The training consisted of elearning modules designed to give an overview of health issues prevalent to the remote health context.
The free online clinical training – using Janison’s LMS – was developed as a resource to provide timely, high quality, orientation and learning materials to anyone interested in remote and Indigenous health. Since December 2008, RAHC has placed more than 600 HPs in almost 2,000 placements. This represents more than 170 man years of healthcare to the Territory. And as of 24 February 2015 (next week), the organisation will celebrate its 3000th placement!
Here are some facts about the health outlook for Indigenous Australians (as provided by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare):
- Twice as many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants are born of low birthweight as non-Indigenous infants. However, between 2000 and 2011, there was a statistically significant decrease in the low birthweight rate among liveborn singleton babies of Indigenous mothers, with the rate declining by 9 per cent over the period (or by 0.1 low birthweight babies per 100 live births annually).
- Indigenous Australians have a life expectancy of around 10 years less than non-Indigenous Australians. In 2010–2012, the estimated life expectancy at birth for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males was 69.1 years, and 73.7 years for females. This was 10.6 and 9.5 years lower than the life expectancy of non-Indigenous males and females respectively.
- Chronic diseases are main contributors to the mortality ‘gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. However, between 2001 and 2012, there were significant declines in Indigenous mortality rates for circulatory diseases for both males and females (declines of 30 per cent and 29 per cent respectively) and for respiratory diseases for Indigenous males (32 per cent). These declines were greater than those observed for the non-Indigenous population.
- Fewer than 1 in 4 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (21.5%) had a health check billed to Medicare in the 2013-14 financial year. Indigenous people experience a general pattern of worsening access to GPs relative to need with increasing remoteness. This is attributed to relatively poor access to GPs and relatively high predicted need for primary health care in more remote areas.
With the ongoing assistance and dedication of Governments, organisations like RAHC and individuals, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is steadily closing.
Click here for more information about RAHC.