A hard, rewarding slog: Close the Gap co-chair Mick Gooda on the battle to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

Thursday, February 11, 2016

On the 10-year anniversary of the landmark Close The Gap campaign, co-chair Mick Gooda can point to a record of outstanding advances in the field of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, while acknowledging how far Australia must go to achieve true equality.

“It’s been a hard slog so far but a rewarding one,” Mr Gooda (pictured left) told The Health Advocate.

The campaign was launched in April 2006 to close the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030. Mr Gooda said while there was still a long road ahead, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were already beginning to benefit from improved health outcomes.

Mr Gooda, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, and his co-chair Kirstie Parker, succeeded original chair Dr Tom Calma.

“We’ve seen the biggest investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health since Federation with $1.6 billion in funding in 2008,” Mr Gooda said.

“So we can look back on what we’ve achieved with pride, but we also need to look at things that aren’t working. We need to evaluate what we’re doing and make sure it’s delivering the best possible results.”

The campaign has raised about $5 billion in additional resources thanks to the signing of seven National Partnership Agreements in the past decade. The gap has closed furthest in the areas of infancy and early childhood, Mr Gooda said, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infant mortality rates halving in the past 10 years.

“Infant weight is also improving, which obviously contributes to better health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children,” he said.

Progress has also been seen among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers, with rates of smoking starting to fall.

“And we hope to see those rates continue to drop in the next few years,” Mr Gooda said.

However, even with the campaign’s successes to date, Mr Gooda said the team were focused on future goals.

“What we want now is an increase in action on chronic disease,” he said. 

“Chronic disease is a big killer of our people.”

Mr Gooda said the key to reducing the fatalities from chronic disease among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was in early detection and treatment. This would require an increase in awareness among potential patients, and ensuring all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had access to quality health services.

“We need good primary care services. Hospitals also have a big role to play in making sure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can access culturally-appropriate services and treatment,” he said.

He also said it was necessary to increase awareness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about the importance of becoming informed about their own care.

“I just turned 59, so I’m in the danger zone for Aboriginal males,” Mr Gooda said.

“I make sure I see the doctor every six months, and it’s that sort of habit we have to cultivate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, along with making sure they have appropriate access to quality services.”

Mr Gooda said it was important to acknowledge the support the Close The Gap campaign had received in the past decade.

“I think with our 10-year anniversary, it’s time to thank and acknowledge the hard work of groups and organisations that have supported us,” he said.

“We would not have been able to do everything we’ve done without that cooperation and support. We’ve got a bit of a way to go but there are good things happening and we need to say that.”

This article appears in the current edition of The Health Advocate. To read current and past editions of The Health Advocate, click here.

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