The Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) has called on policy makers to tailor public health initiatives to Indigenous populations to drive the best outcomes and Close the Gap.
It comes on day two of the WONCA World Conference Sydney 2023, from 26 to 29 October 2023, one of the largest global conferences for GPs. WONCA 2023 is being hosted by the RACGP, bringing the conference to Australia for the first time in over 20 years.
WONCA will include a series of informative presentations on Indigenous healthcare issues including:
- Professor Sandra Eades delivering a keynote address on Australian Indigenous communities’ self-determination in delivery of primary healthcare
- an informative panel discussion featuring expert speakers such as RACGP spokesperson and Bundaberg GP Professor Brad Murphy, Medical Advisor for RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and GP Dr Tim Senior and Professor of Māori and Indigenous Research Dr David Tipene-Leach
- Jo Henson, Pou Kaiwhakahaere Matua/GM Māori and Population Health, and Mabli Jones, General Manager of Practice Development at Tū Ora Compass Health on successful delivery of healthcare to Indigenous peoples. Her presentation will focus on efforts that addressed the constraints limiting peoples’ access to the COVID-19 vaccine, with the aim of ensuring the same uptake as non-Māori
- Laynhapuy Health’s Dr Sarah Gelbart on the value of relationships in primary healthcare, featuring a case study from North-East Arnhem Land
- Donnella Mills, Dawn Casey and Jason Agostino, three leaders from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled health sector, demonstrating how a model based on health self-determination became best-practice and contributed to low COVID-19 mortality.
Dr Karen Nicholls, Chair of the RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health faculty, said the WONCA program featured excellent examples of how health self-determination has led to better health outcomes for Indigenous communities in Australia and other countries.
“The evidence is clear that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a voice in policies and practices that affect them, the outcomes are better, resources are better-used, and we move closer to closing the gap in health equity,” she said.
“The RACGP has not changed its commitment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.. The College will continue working closely with and listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices.
“During and following the referendum, the discourse has been hurtful for our communities and those who support and care for us. The sad reality is that significant disparities in health outcomes such as life expectancy, burden of disease, mental health and social and emotional wellbeing continue. We will keep working and collaborating, and advocating tomorrow, the next day, and every day after, until we close these gaps.”
Professor Eades said that the focus must be on self-determination.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the world’s longest continuous living culture, and ensuring self-determination in the delivery of general practice care is crucial,” she said.
“At the WONCA conference today, I will be speaking about how since the early 1970s, Aboriginal communities have been delivering primary health care through Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations, referred to as ACCHOs, and partnering in primary health care research.
“We have made many strides forward, but we still have a long way to go, and that includes an even greater focus on community led research and health service responses to the health inequalities experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in communities right across Australia. We must get this right if we hope to Close the Gap in the years ahead.”
Mabli Jones and Jo Henson of New Zealand’s Tū Ora Compass Health agreed that a pro-equity approach is crucial.
“Unfortunately, in New Zealand and in other places around the world, public health programs can deliver inequitable outcomes for Indigenous people,” Ms Jones said.
“However, our experience in New Zealand shows that the right approach makes all the difference. In 2021, the New Zealand Government aimed for a 90% COVID-19 vaccination rate for the entire population, so we zeroed in on addressing the constraints that might limit peoples’ access to the vaccine, with the aim of ensuring the same uptake as non-Māori.
“We partnered with Māori community-based organisations to co-design an approach to deliver our vaccination programme and we were the first region to hit 90% vaccine coverage for our Māori population. That is a tremendous result, and an example to health leaders everywhere of how to approach public health initiatives for Indigenous populations.
“We have continued to take this approach with other population health targets such as childhood immunisation and cervical screening.”
RACGP spokespeople are available for interview.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is the peak representative organisation for general practice, the backbone of Australia’s health system. We set the standards for general practice, facilitate lifelong learning for GPs, connect the general practice community, and advocate for better health and wellbeing for all Australians.