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Action needed on Indigenous health gap

Celine O’Meara  Thornbury Primary School, Melbourne. Photo by Lara McKinley, Oxfam Australia

THE HEADLINES scream of a 17-year life expectancy gap – a devastating figure by any measure. Report after report records statistical evidence of chronic issues in Indigenous health.

According to a 2008 joint report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Indigenous adults are twice as likely as non-Indigenous adults to report their health as fair or poor.

Indigenous adults are also twice as likely as non-Indigenous adults to report high or very high levels of psychological distress. Indigenous people are hospitalised for dialysis at 14 times the rate of non-Indigenous people.

The mortality rate for Indigenous infants and children is around three times that for non-Indigenous infants and children.

At the 12th Assembly in July, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian National Administrator Rev Shayne Blackman reminded the Assembly that these statistics have not improved since his report to the 2006 Assembly.

All these statistics can feel overwhelming and inevitable. We sometimes believe that this is just the way the world is; the problem is just too intractable. Yet all the statistics can also shield us from the reality of people’s lives.
In our clamour for objective data we must never forget the human face and personal story of people.

We must never forget the story of a life constantly weighed down with chronic health concerns.

Many Indigenous people seek to offer leadership in battling the health issues of their community. For many Indigenous ministries funerals form an all too regular part of their life together.

Our Uniting Church national and state bodies continue to grapple with how we respond in formal, organised ways. The impetus formed through renewing the covenant process, the new preamble, the constitutional amendments and the national apology which acknowledged the need for a practical response have all been encouraging.

However, just because our institution is at work does not mean that we as individuals and faith communities are exempt. We don’t have to wait for their answers to commence our contribution to closing the gap.

The Building Partnerships resource from the Assembly is a great place to start in exploring how to deepen the covenantal relationship with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Who are the Indigenous people in your community you could work with in concrete, tangible ways? Who is your local member of parliament you could write to about your passion for closing the gap?

What gifts and skills could you offer to the wider community? What health care services are in your local area with which you could make a connection?

The concept of wellbeing is an interesting one. It seems to me that it is closely related to the holistic approach to ministry I hear Congress talk about.

It also seems to me that a holistic approach to ministry and the wellbeing of the whole person was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.

Andrew Johnson is a Community Justice Minister at West End Uniting Church

Photo : Celine O’Meara Thornbury Primary School, Melbourne. Photo by Lara McKinley, Oxfam Australia