The estimated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) population of Australia was around 520,000 in June 2006 (AIHW 2008), constituting 2.5% of the total Australian population. Of these, the proportion who identify their origin as:
•Aboriginal only is 90%
•Torres Strait Islander only is 6%
•Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander is 4%
According to “Australia’s Health 2008” (AIHW 2008), Indigenous Australians experience significantly more ill health than other Australians. They typically die at much younger ages and are more likely to experience disability and reduced quality of life because of ill health.
The leading causes of disease in these populations are:
•chronic respiratory disease
Aspects of the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are likely to influence their poorer health compared to non-Indigenous Australians are:
•other aspects of living, working and social conditions
•reduced sense of control over their lives
Indigenous people have a higher hospitalisation rate than other Australians, with particular differences between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous Australians being for:
•dialysis at 14 times the rate;
•endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases (including diabetes) at 3 times the rate; and
•diseases of the skin and subcutaneous tissue at 3 times the rate.
Life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
Although there have been improvements in the mortality rates of Indigenous Australians in recent years (AIHW 2008), available data suggest that the gap is widening between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The estimated life expectancy at birth for Indigenous Australians in the period 1996-2001 was estimated to be:
•59 years for Indigenous males and
•65 years for Indigenous females,
while the life expectancy for all Australians for the period 1998-2000 was:
•77 years for males and
•82 years for females
This means that the gap was at least 17 years.
Of people who died in the period 2001-2005, 71% of Indigenous Australians who died were younger than 65 years. This is in stark contrast to the non-Indigenous population, where the corresponding portion was 21%.
Death rates for Indigenous people are 3 times the rates for non-Indigenous people, based on age and sex.
Approximately 40% of the patients that RFDS treats are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background. This means that RFDS places significant focus on helping Indigenous Australians to improve their health.
What are the RFDS doing to help reduce the gap in life expectancy? Find out here.
What do you think should be done to improve health care in Indigenous communities?