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6 Serious Health Issues That Indigenous Australians Are Facing

Indigenous Australians pertain to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders found in Australia. They comprise 3.3% of the population and have been around since before British colonization. With over 250 languages, indigenous Australians have a rich culture and history that dates back over 100,000 years.

Unfortunately, there are factors that affect the overall health of indigenous Australians, resulting in more cases of medical conditions, occurrences of relatively unknown diseases to the non-indigenous population, and a much lower life expectancy rate.

The gap for the latter, in fact, stands at 8.6 years for males while indigenous females expect to live 7.8 years less than those who are not. While recent years have narrowed this gap, there is still a lot to improve upon when it comes to health care and awareness to further make this difference become more acceptable.

Social Determinants that Caused Health Concerns in Indigenous Australians

Indigenous Australians suffer from several disadvantages which result in a generally poorer state of health when compared to other Australians. These affect multiple areas of their way of life, but the following listed below have the most impact:

  • Lack of access to quality health care
  • Overcrowding
  • Lack of access to clean water
  • Substance abuse
  • Lack of health care awareness and education
  • High crime and incarceration rates

The factors mentioned above is the reason for the increased hospitalization rate for indigenous Australians, with non-indigenous people going to hospitals 2.5 times lower than Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.

What are the Common Health Issues of Indigenous Australians?

Listed below are the most common health conditions experienced by indigenous Australians. Whenever available, the core reasons for the sharp incline are also discussed.

Trachoma

Trachoma is a bacterial infection that affects the eye. Due to repeated infections, this can lead to blindness. Trachoma s considered as the fourth leading cause of blindness among Indigenous Australians. In fact, studies have shown than 30% of the people have symptoms of trachoma, primarily children.

Improper hygiene, especially when living in unsanitary and dusty locations, is the main cause of trachoma. This disease, however, is treatable and preventable, although indigenous Australians are somewhat limited in getting care for this condition.

Rheumatic Heart Disease

Rheumatic fever is a condition that occurs due to complications from diseases such as strep throat or scarlet fever. These diseases are highly treatable but can do long term damage to the heart if not taken care of.  In the worst cases, rheumatic heart disease may develop. Joint pain, difficulty in breathing, and rashes may also appear during bouts of rheumatic fever.

Rheumatic heart disease places a heavy medical burden in Australia. For indigenous Australians, at least 2% have this condition. They are also more likely to get this condition by more than 69 times than non-indigenous Australians. Lack of awareness of the disease and reduced access to treatment are mostly to blame for this situation.

Respiratory Diseases

Indigenous Australians suffer from respiratory-related illnesses at a much higher rate than other Australians. Conditions such as asthma, pneumonia, and COPD from these demographics have a high mortality rate, and they place a high disease burden to the country as well.

Causes for this situation include by poor and unsanitary conditions, smoking, and malnutrition. Older people are at a much higher risk of dying due to these conditions, but all age groups are affected, especially those who are current smokers.

Mental Health Problems

Overcrowding, discrimination, abuse during childhood, and exposure to crimes and violence are the main reasons why mental disorders are high among indigenous Australians. Substance abuse by the individual or by those belonging within the person’s social circle is also to blame.

The most common mental conditions experienced by indigenous Australians include anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, and substance abuse. With incidences of self-harm and suicides being double of the non-indigent population, mental health issues surrounding indigenous Australians are very troublesome indeed.

Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease can be caused by a variety of reasons such as a poor diet, alcohol abuse, as well as those with conditions such as diabetes, chronic heart disease. CKD is difficult to treat and may require transplants or regular dialysis treatments if the condition progresses.

Chronic kidney disease among indigenous Australians is two to three times higher than the rest of the population. This is troubling especially since indigenous Australians only make up less than four percent of the total population. They are also four times more likely to die,

While CKD is also quite common with the non-indigenous population, Aboriginals and Torres Strait islanders do not have the same access to health care facilities and specialists which is the reason for their diseases progressing at a much faster rate.

Infectious Diseases

Overcrowding lack of sanitary facilities and a lack of vaccination initiatives and education about the communicable disease has caused numerous incidences of infection among locations where indigenous Australians are found. The most common infections experienced by the population include the following:

  • Fungal infections
  • Tuberculosis
  • Whooping cough
  • Influenza
  • HIV
  • Strep throat

The difference in infection rates between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians differ from disease to disease. However, data acquired through the years would indicate that the latter group does have higher incidences regardless of the disease.

How to Close the Gap

In order to improve health care among indigenous Australians, the government has implemented the Closing the Gap initiative, a strategy that aims to improve the lives and reduce the disadvantage of the indigenous population in the country.

While some areas with relation to their targets have improved, there is still a long way to go to reduce the difference, especially with regards to access to health care and increasing life expectancy. General education and increasing employment rates are also top priority due to their link to better health. Other initiatives and programs are geared towards building hospitals and implementing telemedicine, improving housing and sanitation, and implementing vaccination programs. The government hopes that these strategies will help improve the situation of indigenous Australians and reduce the health issues being experienced by the population.