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‘Strong Culture, Strong Youth’: Close the Gap Campaign shines light on youth


Anastasia Tsirtsakis


16/03/2023 12:01:00 AM

To help achieve health equity and improved life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the campaign’s latest report is calling for large-scale systemic institutional reforms at a national level.

Three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls.
More than half (51.5%) of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population were under 25 years of age in 2021.

The healthcare gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians ‘is not closing fast enough’.
 
They are the words of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who made the declaration just last month upon releasing the Government’s second Closing the Gap Implementation Plan.
 
Since efforts commenced to Close the Gap in 2006, just four out of 17 targets are on track to be achieved. And a key message that continues to emerge is that health is about far more than physical wellbeing.
 
‘It is our connection to Country and language,’ June Oscar and Karl Briscoe, co-Chairs of the Close the Gap Campaign, said.
 
‘It also enables us to access education and to build connections with the wider community – all of which are vital to our social and emotional wellbeing.’
 
This message is further reiterated in the 14th Close the Gap Campaign report.
 
Titled Strong Culture, Strong Youth: Our Legacy, Our Future, the Close the Gap Alliance Group’s report is being launched and live streamed today, Thursday 16 March, at the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW.
 
This year’s report builds on the efforts of previous years, but with a particular focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth, with eight case studies that showcase their work in areas spanning suicide prevention and structural reform of mental health services to youth justice initiatives and climate activism.
 
By taking this approach, Ms Oscar and Mr Briscoe said the report showcases how central culture is to the health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and how it needs to be implemented into health policy and frameworks – all of which should be community-led and driven.
 
‘We followed the research and looked to 21st century examples of music, dance, language, belonging and identity – all intrinsic aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures – to show how these concepts shape Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health in the long term,’ the co-Chairs said.
 
‘This approach has allowed us to showcase in this report a range of organisations that, although they don’t directly work in the health sector, do, in fact, use cultural determinants to provide holistic care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth to improve their lived experiences and encourage them to achieve their aspirations for the future.’
 
The co-Chairs did, however, note that their intention is not to overlook the ‘incredible work’ being done in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.
 
‘To those of you working tirelessly in the health field, we see you creating safe spaces for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to access healthcare,’ they said.
 
‘We know the effort, the sheer determination it takes to move the pendulum even a little, towards better health outcomes – and we thank you for you care and dedication to your work and our communities.’
 
Dr Karen Nicholls is a Torres Strait Islander woman descending from Boigu Island in the Torres Strait and Chair of RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health.

She told newsGP there is ‘real benefit’ to applying a strengths-based approach to health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
 
‘Community identifying what their health priorities are, and how to address and manage these, can only improve outcomes,’ she said.
 
‘[This includes] programs that support youth and reinforce the value of culture.’
 
While Dr Nicholls notes that collaborative, co-designed programs, and understanding the value of self-determination are all key actions to closing the gap, she says systemic racism must also be addressed.
 
‘Systemic racism has an ongoing, significant negative impact on the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities,’ she said.
 
‘Achieving equitable health outcomes cannot be accomplished without addressing the impact of racism both for our patients and our clinicians.
 
‘Clinically and culturally safe, and quality healthcare should be seen as a human rights approach.’
 
The Close the Gap Campaign report is centred on the six domains of the cultural determinants of health across three thematic areas: share knowledge, cultivate community, and cherish wisdom.
 
To achieve health equity and improved life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at a national level, the report is calling on Australian governments to implement the following recommendations in full:

  • Uluru Statement from the Heart
  • Adopt and embed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Immediately raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years of age
  • Recommendations from the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices): Securing Our Rights, Securing Our Future Report, and to support the development and implementation of a National Framework for Action to achieve First Nations Gender Justice and Equality
  • National Agreement on Closing the Gap priorities and reform focus areas
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2021–31 and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce Strategic Framework and Implementation Plan 2021–31
  • Develop strengths- and place-based, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-led social and emotional wellbeing initiatives
  • Develop, fund and implement an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural policy and climate change strategic framework
If these recommendations are to be developed and implemented, both Ms Oscar and Mr Briscoe say it is critical it is done ‘in partnership’ with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
 
‘[This is] to ensure the specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities are identified and addressed,’ they said.
 
In 2021, more than half (51.5%) of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population were under 25 years of age.
 
Dr Nicholls noted there is a whole generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who have known nothing but discussion around closing the gap and that a more ‘holistic and First Nations informed and inclusive’ approach is needed.
 
Meanwhile, the Newcastle-based GP said that doctors can take steps to close the gap in their day-to-day practice.
 
‘GPs can undertake quality cultural safety training and address their own biases, identify the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients in their clinic, utilise resources available – such as the NACCHO/RACGP National guide to a preventive health assessment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – and engage meaningfully with the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander [patient],’ she said.
 
The report also acknowledges the referendum to establish a permanent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament, expected later this year.
 
Ms Oscar and Mr Briscoe said that if the majority of Australians vote in favour this will be a big step for future generations to have the opportunity to ‘inform and direct’ the policies that impact their lives.
 
‘It is our hope that when these young people read this report, they will see themselves reflected in the stories it contains, and know that their dreams, their visions and hopes for the future are being paved right now,’ they said.
 
‘That across this nation, we see you: we see your drive, your determination, your care of, and for, community and culture.
 
‘We take heart in knowing that our future is in the hands of our young people – and that your future is bright.’
 
To mark National Close the Gap Day, the RACGP is holding an online forum on Thursday 16 March from 7.00 – 8.00 pm (AEDT). Hosted by Dr Karen Nicholls, the webinar will touch upon information from the Closing the Gap report and the steps GPs and practice teams can take to work towards closing the gap. To attend, register online.
 
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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health Close the Gap healthcare equity youth


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