Research unit leading the way in closing the gap

South Australia is leading the way in research focused on closing the gap in indigenous health, with the still relatively new Wardliparingga Aboriginal Research Unit continuing to break new ground and win awards.

The Unit’s aim of providing better health outcomes for indigenous Australians by forging stronger ties between indigenous and medical research communities is gaining momentum.

A project designed to determine how research can improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people was recently presented with a National Award in Indigenous Health Ethics.

The project, run jointly by the Aboriginal Health Council of SA and the Wardliparingga Aboriginal Research Unit within the SA Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), builds on the historic accord for negotiated health outcomes between indigenous South Australians and medical health researchers launched at SAHMRI last year.

And it is based on the simple but important concept of asking the Aboriginal community what they think research should focus on.

“People told us they want research to focus on their everyday health and wellbeing needs, but importantly they also want approaches that respect and engage with a view of life that is holistic and interconnected with cultural, spiritual, social and physical needs across the lifespan,” said Dr Rosie King from the Aboriginal Health Council.

“Research into health and wellbeing needs to be driven by and involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

The Unit has also unveiled a new plan known as ESSENCE to target heart disease. What distinguishes it from previous programs addressing indigenous health inequality is that it sets out evidence-based standards for health and establishes pathways for achieving them.

“What’s unique about ESSENCE is the architecture of the response, how we’ve set it up,” said its creator, Prof Alex Brown.

“We’ve turned the evidence base around cardiovascular health into a set of minimum acceptable standards in terms of accessing basic care.”

ESSENCE sets standards not just for closing the life expectancy gap, but also for reducing levels of cardiovascular disease, improving health literacy, improving access to care and reducing patient and family suffering.

“If you’re going to close the gap, you have to fundamentally make sure that everyone gets equitable access to health care according to their needs,” Prof Brown said.

“Until we can move from social, policy and political intent to practical and resourced implementation of equitable care for all Australians, the gap between Australians defined by culture, ethnicity, location and socioeconomic status may continue to widen.”

“We aim to see where the gaps are, then work out what it’s going to take in terms of models of care, deliverables, what it costs and how we’re going to fund it.”

If you’re interested in Aboriginal health issues, you can follow Wardliparingga on its website, its Facebook site or on Twitter.