New focus on Aboriginal heart health needed


Aboriginal flag painted on bricks

The Heart Foundation is calling for a renewed focus on prevention and acute care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, in the wake of more damning data on chronic disease rates.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report— Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease Australian facts: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—found that in 2011-13, 27% of Indigenous adults had cardiovascular disease, compared with 21% of non-Indigenous adults.

National Heart Foundation Cultural Lead, Vicki Wade, says the figures reflect the disproportionate impact of chronic health conditions on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“It is utterly unacceptable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to be hospitalised for and die from cardiovascular disease at greater rates than the rest of the population,” Wade says.

“Compounding this fact is the gap in cardiovascular disease death rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is at its widest among younger-age groups.

“Too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have become accustomed to mourning the lives of young people lost to diseases that can and, should be prevented.

“While the data paints a very stark picture, there is hope on the horizon in the form of initiatives like the Lighthouse Hospital Project, a joint partnership between the Heart Foundation and the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association with support from the Australian Government.

“This ground breaking project aims to provide health practitioners with the practical tools to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples receive clinically-appropriate treatment, delivered in a culturally-safe manner.

“While real progress is being made through initiatives like this, the reality is that it will take significant added investment in prevention and acute care to stem the tide of hospitalisation and premature death among Indigenous Australians.”

The AIHW report also shows high levels of risk factors among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Compared to the non-Indigenous population, Indigenous Australians are more likely to smoke (42% compared to 16%), be overweight or obese (72% compared to 63%) and have high blood pressure (25% compared to 21%).

National Heart Foundation CEO, Mary Barry, says this latest data highlights the urgent need to redouble efforts to tackle chronic disease and its root causes within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“While we have seen some progress through initiatives like the Lighthouse Hospital Project and Close the Gap, the reality is that it is still nowhere near enough,” Barry says.

“We need to redouble our efforts in improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as a matter of priority.

“As well as increasing investment in prevention and acute care, the Federal Government should implement as a priority, all of the recommendations arising from the Senate Select Committee on Health inquiry into health policy, administration and expenditure, with a particular focus on Indigenous health.

“By doing so, we can start to make meaningful inroads to improving cardiovascular health outcomes for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

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