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National Close the Gap Day – an initiative to promote the healthcare needs of Australia’s Indigenous communities – has come and gone for this year. However, industry groups around the country are urging the government to “make every day a Close the Gap Day”.
The overarching purpose of the annual event is to highlight the fact that there is a continued discrepancy between the health and life expectancies of people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island heritage and other Australians. According to Dr Steve Hambleton, president of the Australian Medical Association, the mental health and wellbeing of Indigenous people is becoming a priority.
“Poor mental health and low social and emotional wellbeing are persistent problems for many Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders,” he said.
“These problems begin early in life and stay with them through adolescence and into adulthood.”
The high rates of suicide in Indigenous communities are just one indicator of this worrying phenomenon, Dr Hambleton said. Governments and healthcare groups need to take “concerted action” to tackle this issue, which is prevalent among Torres Strait Islanders in particular.
Meanwhile, representatives from the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) have highlighted the unique role that nurses can play in reaching out to these communities. ACN CEO Debra Thoms said an “inter-professional” approach, which draws on input from both the community and the healthcare sector, would allow nurses to cut down the gap in life expectancy.
“As nurses work within some of the hardest-to-reach and at-risk communities, they must play an integral role in this inter-professional approach,” she said.
“Indigenous healthcare strategies should utilise a nurse’s unique reach and community engagement capabilities.”
Although this life expectancy ‘gap’ continues to narrow every year, progress needs to pick up pace in the coming years. Initiatives such as Close the Gap Day can raise awareness of the issue among the public.