May 30, 2012

Aboriginals of Australia: Need for Community Health Workers

An increase in the number of Aboriginal health care professionals is required in order to achieve the best standard of care for patients within the Aboriginal community in the West of Australia.

Below is an article published by the Sydney Morning Herald:

More Aboriginal health professionals are needed for effective indigenous health care in Western Australia, says a leading Goldfields paediatrician.

Dr Christine Jeffries-Stokes, who is based in Kalgoorlie, believes "creative and innovative education solutions" need to be adopted to allow Aboriginal people to train as nurses and doctors while living within their own communities, rather than forcing them to leave and study in the city.

Her comments came on the back of an Australian Medical Association audit report released on the weekend, consisting of information collated from 10 years of indigenous health report cards.

It found the "the government track record over the last decade has been variable, and in some cases disappointing".

According to the report, more effort is needed to build a suitable health and medical workforce; priority needs to be given to the creation of Aboriginal community-controlled health; the rate of indigenous incarceration, which is referred to as "a national disgrace", must be addressed; and current health funding levels must be maintained.

It states: "The health needs of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders are significantly greater than those of other Australians. The AMA believes that changing this requires primary health care that is funded at a level, and focused in a way, that is commensurate with this differential burden of poor health".

Ms Jeffries-Stokes said the training of specialised Aboriginal health workers within their own communities had been highly effective, and believes a similar approach should be adopted to encourage indigenous youths to take up tertiary study in medicine and nursing.

"There needs to be Aboriginal people in leadership positions within their own communities," she said. "There needs to be more emphasis placed on getting more Aboriginal people into the health workforce. These are the people who know what their communities need so education should be taken to them."

AMA national president Dr Steve Hambleton said the audit showed evidence of a greater commitment to indigenous health by the federal government in recent years, but there was still much more needed to close the gap.

"The track record has been varied over the decade, but there has been building momentum in recent years," he said.

"In 2008, COAG made a commitment to close the gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders and other Australians ... To support these commitments, Australian governments undertook to provide $1.6 billion over four years.

"This funding better reflects the genuine needs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and must continue beyond 2013."

Dr Richard Choong, AMAWA vice president, said the report "clearly annunciates the ongoing plight of the Aboriginal people".

"There has been a lot of talk about 'closing the gap', but this is not significantly occurring," Mr Choong said.

He said a "trifecta" of continued funding, more health workers and greater community engagement were needed to improve the situation.

"Without community engagement, funding and an increased workforce will be ineffective," he said.