Aboriginal health problems need to be tackled from birth 


The poor health of Aboriginal children was easy to talk about, but difficult to turn around, Dr Jonathan Carapetis told his audience at Charles Darwin University’s third public lecture on Tuesday evening.

Dr Carapetis produced statistics that showed Aboriginal men are likely to die at around 50 years of age from the same preventable and treatable diseases as the white population, and that these alarming health figures extended across their families and children.

While it was important to take steps to improve adult health, it was even more important to tackle the health problems of children from birth particularly as the Indigenous population was growing rapidly.

He said much research was being done into Indigenous child health problems at institutions such as the Menzies School of Health Research, but a more systematic and coordinated approach needed to be adopted by health professions.

Producing figures that showed child mortality rates had dropped since the dark days of the 1960s and 70s, Dr Carapetis said more research and work needed to be done to break the continuing nexus between unemployment, poverty, lack of education and poor health.

“Until we tackle the root problems of poverty, unemployment, education and housing the health rates won’t improve,” he said.

He said the main reasons for premature death in adulthood among the Aboriginal population were rooted in early life.

It was essential, therefore, to focus on improving the prospects for children by tackling all the social and economic issues that led to their disadvantage.

“It is a challenge to our ideas that we should concentrate on adults, but there is not a lot we can do for them,” he said.

“Seventy per cent of adult Aboriginal deaths are due to non-communicable diseases. Deaths among adults are decreasing in some areas, but heart disease is going up, diabetes is going through the roof, smoking-related deaths are up and we are not making much impact.”

He said it was now time to embrace the concept of generational reform by applying the rigour of health science research to problems from infancy.

There needed to be a continuous program of quality improvement in health measures even from conception through to birth, infancy and early childhood education.

Among those measures were immunisation, tackling ear and skin diseases and improving the home environment.

Dr Carapetis is the director of the Menzies School of Health Research.

Visit the Charles Darwin University Public Lecture Series website for further information about this and other lectures in the October series.