Last week a medical centre that provides primary health care services to more than 8,000 people annually unveiled an $800,000 refurbishment, positioning itself to meet the ever increasing needs of the Aboriginal community. Growing at a rate of 60 new patients per month reminds us of the ever present health gap between Aboriginal people and the rest of the population, but most importantly the role the centre plays in trying to reduce it.
The average lifespan of an Aboriginal person is about 16 or 17 years less than other Australians. Figures released by NSW Health indicate that the number of Aboriginal people with chronic illness is almost double that of other Australians. We also know that in the Hunter alone we have one of Australia’s highest levels of tobacco use.
Last year Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Co-operative introduced an education initiative into the Hunter to help people make healthy lifestyle choices. For a lot of Aboriginal people there is a great amount of fear associated with medical practitioners and hospitals, so our challenge is to empower people to see medical centres as a place that also promotes positive messages about losing weight, eating well and throwing away bad habits.
But this is not just a message for Aboriginal people. Closing the Gap and improving the health and well-being of Aboriginal people in our community and beyond is a whole of community issue.
During the National Rugby League Close the Gap round Awabakal was pleased to work again with its partners at the Newcastle Knights. We asked Knights and Warriors fans at Hunter Stadium to join us and pledge to help Close the Gap by making one choice that would help our community think about healthier lifestyle choices. On the field there were tens of dozens of people of all cultural backgrounds who stood with Aboriginal people to declare their support to Close the Gap.
In the Hunter more than half our local Aboriginal population is under the age of 25. This group holds one of the keys to our community’s ability to make Closing the Gap a reality. These young people are connected, they are influencers on family, friends and generally they understand the issue and are making firm commitments to improve their health and well-being.
Another key is making sure that modern medical centres think about how they can address the needs of today’s health while building capacity for the future. For the Awabakal Aboriginal Primary Health Care Clinic this was about investing in a refurbishment that integrates acute, chronic care and preventative health in a place that is warm and inviting place that is culturally supportive and provides holistic care.
But the real key to Closing the Gap is one for the whole community to consider. We must work across private and public sectors to find ways that enhance education, proactive health care and community engagement.
Image | Awabakal leads the Hunter Community’s pledge to Close The Gap at Knight vs Warriors match.
Don MacAskill is CEO of Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Co-operative and is a Narangga man with family originating from Point Pierce in South Australia.
He has over 18 years experience working in the public, private, not-for-profit sectors in a variety of roles including Executive Officer and Chief Executive and has worked as an Adviser for a former Premier and NSW Minister. His experience in the private sector has been shaped through roles in Regulatory Affairs and General Management in both pharmaceuticals and medical device manufacturing.
Don has lectured at Macquarie University and University of NSW for the International Studies program in the area of public policy. He holds a BA in Political Science & Sociology from UNSW.