Trending in the right direction – but a long way to go

| December 11, 2013

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has recently launched two reports on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. Jane Powles says that while they indicate a trend in the right direction, we need ongoing commitment from the government, all states and territories.

For those working in Aboriginal health and those supporting the Close the Gap campaign, these reports were one of the first signals for how the campaign and more importantly how the programs funded as a result of the campaign are tracking.

The first report released by the ABS on the 15th November indicated that the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians had started to close, but only slightly.

The figures were collated over the 2010 and 2012 period and revealed that the gap had reduced by 0.8 years for men and 0.1 years for women over the period. Yes, these are small wins and they indicate a long way to go to achieve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality.

The following week we received further news that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are smoking less than at any time over the past decade. The ABS released results from their Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (AATSIHS) that indicated a decline of ten percent over this time in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who smoked every day.

Improving health is not something that happens quickly or that shows results over night. It is a long-term process that can take time before measurable outcomes are possible.

So whilst the true impact of the funding for the National Partnership Agreements is yet to be reflected in the data, what we are beginning to see is a trend in the right direction and with decreased smoking rates such as we are seeing from the ABS we are hopeful that this trend will accelerate.

It’s important to keep these wins in perspective though. Despite showing a slight closing of the gap, the ABS figures still indicate that the life of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander boy born today will be on average 10.6 years shorter than that of other Australian boys. For girls, the data indicates a 9.5 year gap. These statistics highlight the need to continue investing in programs that are clearly working.

With smoking rates now on the decrease, the hundreds and thousands of supporters of the Close the Gap Campaign look forward to seeing greater benefits when the ABS next update their Life Tables for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in five years time.

Ongoing commitment from our new government and all states and territories to closing this more than a decade life expectancy gap is essential if we are to continue seeing the rewards from these early signs.