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This Reconciliation Week, celebrate the good news in indigenous health

Blog post | 24 May 2019

Healthy things are happening in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

There's still a gap between the health of indigenous and non-indigenous populations. For example, the life expectancy of indigenous Australians born in 2010-2012 is still around 10 years less than that of the non-indigenous population.

But health outcomes in some areas have started to improve.

To mark Reconciliation Week, starting May 27, here are 6 good news stories about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

1. Life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has improved

Indigenous people are living 2.5 years longer (males) or 1.9 years longer (females) than they did in 2012. The gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people has narrowed slightly.

2. Heart disease deaths have dropped

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) has, unfortunately, been a leading cause of hospitalisation and death in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. CVD is an umbrella term for conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels, including coronary (ischemic) heart disease, heart failure and rheumatic heart disease.

CVD deaths in indigenous communities dropped by 43 per cent between 1998 and 2015. Deaths related to lung disease and kidney disease have also fallen.

3. About 35,000 fewer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults smoke

The proportion of indigenous people who smoke has dropped by 9 per cent in the past decade. With 35,000 fewer adults now smoking, thousands more early deaths are being prevented.

4. Indigenous people are less likely to drink than non-indigenous people

While indigenous Australians who do consume alcohol are more likely to drink at potentially harmful levels, they are generally less likely to consume any alcohol than non-indigenous people.

In one 12-month period (2014-15), nearly 2 out of every 5 indigenous people aged 15 and over did not consume any alcohol or drank on only 1 day of the year).

Between 2010 and 2016, the proportion of indigenous Australians who consumed more than 2 standard drinks in a single day fell from 32% to 20%.

5. Rates of the eye disease trachoma have improved

Vision loss and problems due to conditions such as diabetes and cataracts are more likely to affect the indigenous community than non-indigenous populations.

But between 2008 and 2017, the trachoma rate in 5 to 9-year-old Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children plummeted from 21% to 3.8%. According to Vision 2020 Australia, trachoma could be eliminated in the indigenous community by 2020.

6. Indigenous mothers are getting better antenatal care

The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers attending antenatal care appointments in their first 3 months of pregnancy has increased, from about 40% to about 60%.

8 in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies have been breastfed. The highest rate of breastfeeding among indigenous mothers is in the Northern Territory, where breastfeeding is initiated with 98% of babies. —Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet

How you can help

Even if you're not part of the indigenous community, there are things you can do to help boost positive health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

  • Spread the word about good health news Negative stories reinforce negative stereotypes — and can contribute to low self-esteem and mental distress in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, says Dr Katie Thurber, a researcher at the Australian National University. If you hear something positive about the indigenous community, share it.

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