Data is key to improving Aboriginal health outcomes

There are countless reports, strategies, programs and policies aimed at ‘closing the gap’ for Aboriginal people across South Australia, with most focusing on a state-wide level of reporting and monitoring.

And yet, it is known that some Aboriginal communities have better health and social outcomes than other Aboriginal communities.  The ‘why’ some communities fare better than others is often unknown.

Involving Aboriginal communities in making decisions about their health and well-being is essential to achieve better outcomes for this population. As communities, service providers and policy makers attempt to advance positive outcomes for Aboriginal people a key element, that is currently missing, is empowering Aboriginal people with health information about their own community.

In the next couple of months, under the lead of Dr Odette Gibson, SAHMRI’s Wardliparingga Aboriginal Research Unit will be finalising reports on health outcomes, social determinants of health and health system performance, for 18 geographical areas that cover South Australia. This will be the first time for many Aboriginal people and organisations to have data that are specifically about their community.

The 18 geographical areas are being called Landscapes. They are based on where people live rather than local government catchments and comprise a large enough population to report reliable statistics. Information on the population context, cultural and social determinants of health, chronic conditions, mothers and babies, early childhood development, health behaviours and system performance are included in the reports. The data are presented through an equity lens to clearly show where health and social systems can respond better to meet the needs of Aboriginal people in this State.

Most importantly, this wealth of information prepared for each of the 18 landscape groups, is designed to provide local Aboriginal communities with their own data.  Armed with this information, Aboriginal people will be able to better drive how they want to engage with service providers, achieve their own priorities and outcomes and gain control over what ‘gaps need to be closed’. These will become baseline reports, enabling the Aboriginal community to monitor the performance of government systems on their health and social outcomes over time.

Never in Australia, has a state-wide program of this size and ambition been implemented.  With an Aboriginal population of under 40,000 people, less than the capacity of Adelaide Oval, if any State can achieve significant and lasting improvements in Aboriginal health it should be South Australia.

The Fay Fuller Foundation has been proud to support this work at the Wardliparingga Aboriginal Research Unit.  The work that the team has achieved so far in under one year has shown the commitment and dedication of not only the research team involved, but the Aboriginal community’s yearning to have the information they need to drive informed program and service delivery unique to their specific needs.