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Chronic disease in Aboriginal communities

Aboriginal people living in New South Wales (NSW), represent approximately 2.2% of the total population and 29% of the total Australian Aboriginal population [1]. While many people living in NSW have experienced significant health gains in recent years, these improvements have not been equally shared by Aboriginal people who continue to experience greater health risks, poorer health and shorter life expectancies than non- Aboriginal people.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is using a new methodology for estimating Aboriginal life expectancy from birth[2]. This methodology provides different estimates to the previously published 17 year gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians[3]. At a national level for 2005-2007, life expectancy for Aboriginal men is estimated to be 11.5 years less than life expectancy for non-Aboriginal men. For Aboriginal women, life expectancy is estimated to be 9.7 years less than for non-Aboriginal women. It is important to note that this new estimate does not represent an improvement of six years, but rather a different method of calculating life expectancy.

 

The greater morbidity and premature mortality rates can be significantly attributable to the disproportionately high burden of chronic conditions in Aboriginal people, including heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease and diabetes.

The Aboriginal hospitalisation rates included in the NSW Chief Health Officer 2008 Summary Report [4] further highlights the poor health status of Aboriginal people in NSW. Compared to non-Aboriginals, hospitalisation rates for Aboriginal people in NSW are:

• 140% higher for conditions for which hospitalisations can be avoided through prevention and early management

• 40% higher for cardiovascular diseases

• 210% higher for diabetes

• 230% higher for chronic respiratory diseases
 
The disproportionately high burden of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart, kidney and lung disease, significantly contribute to the greater morbidity and premature mortality in Aboriginal populations. There are a range of factors which contribute to chronic health conditions in Aboriginal communities. These factors, although well documented, are complex and often result in Aboriginal people presenting to health services late in the course of their disease, which in turn leads to significantly higher rates of complications and death.

 

The appalling statistics for every chronic condition in Aboriginal populations requires a rethink in the way we deliver health care. Chronic disease in Aboriginal people brings with it cultural and complex issues that challenge our current health care models.
 
The social and environmental circumstances in which many indigenous Australians live create risk conditions (eg. poverty, poor housing, inadequate food supply), which predispose this population to the development of chronic diseases and the uptake of risk behaviours which may lead to physiological risk factors for chronic disease.
 
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[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: New South Wales 2004-05.

ABS Cat. No. 4715.1.55.005. Canberra: ABS, 2006. Available at www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/mf/4715.1.55.005

[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010. Cat no 3302.0.55.003 - Experimental Life Tables for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

Australians 2005-2007.

[3] Population Health Division. The health of the people of New South Wales - Report of the Chief Health Officer. Sydney: NSW

Department of Health. Available at www.health.nsw.gov.au/publichealth/chorep/

[4] Population Health Division 2008. The Health of the people of New South Wales - Report of the Chief Health Officer 2008. Summary

Report. Sydney: NSW Department of Health.

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This web page is managed and authorised by Chronic Disease Management Office of the NSW Department of Health. Last updated: 14 June, 2011