Support is vital to bridging the health divide

Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative's new centre. Picture: GLENN DANIELS
Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative's new centre. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

YESTERDAY was National Close the Gap Day, an opportunity to take action towards achieving Indigenous health parity by 2030.

But this year’s Closing the Gap report, released by the Prime Minister in February, paints an unpromising picture: this year, Australia is on track to meet just one of the seven targets.

The health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people remain significantly worse than that of the rest of the Australian population, with a decade-wide gap in life expectancies.

This serves to highlight the need for Aboriginal-led health services, such as that of Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative.

BDAC was established after Bendigo’s only primary health service for the Aboriginal community closed, and the significant health issues that followed.

Research has concluded that limited Aboriginal-specific primary health care services and Aboriginal people’s underutilisation of mainstream healthcare services are among the factors that contribute to poor health outcomes for Aboriginal people.

As Oxfam explains, mainstream health services often lack cultural sensitivity and remain unwelcoming for some Aboriginal people; the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce is also disproportionately low.

But this week saw a positive step for the region when BDAC opened its new, larger premises in North Bendigo.

Chief executive officer Raylene Harradine said the site would become a hub for the community and provide for future growth.

But the new centre was a long time coming: the land was purchased in 2009, but federal funding was not secured until 2012, and Ms Harradine said the contract with the federal Health Department was not signed until 2014.

The organisation is seeking funding to complete the next stage, which will include a childcare centre and training and education facilities, in its bid to create a wrap-around service.

Such services are important: chairman of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Matthew Cooke, says at least one-third of the health gap can be attributed to social and cultural determinants.

Now BDAC needs support to address more of these factors.

- Natalie Croxon, journalist