New figures show the magnitude of a chronic disease epidemic among Indigenous people in remote Northern Territory communities, according to University of Queensland researcher, Professor Wendy Hoy.
Professor Hoy, Director of UQ’s Centre for Chronic Disease, said the situation had reached “crisis proportions”. This was based on new research that showed, for the first time, a clear comparison of the rates of high blood pressure, kidney problems and diabetes in Aboriginal people, compared with the general Australian population. “The risk of having one or more of these conditions is up to nine fold,” she said. “The risk of having two or more conditions is increased up to 14 fold. “By early middle age, the great majority of Indigenous people have one or more chronic diseases. Between ages 30 and 45, 60 percent of people already have at least one condition.” The study, published recently in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, showed that residents of remote Indigenous communities are up to 10 times as likely to have diabetes, up to eight times more likely to have high blood pressure and up to five times more likely to have kidney disease. Professor Hoy said similar patterns were likely in the rest of remote Aboriginal Australia. “These figures mandate that government expands and intensifies current efforts aimed at alleviating the disease burden for Indigenous people,” Professor Hoy said. “An epidemic of this magnitude in the general population would be handled swiftly and decisively. We need a full-scale onslaught directed at this problem for several years to break the back of it.” Professor Hoy said earlier research showed that improved services could deliver dramatic health improvements for these communities as well as saving on health costs. “Other research has shown that we can improve this situation,” she said. “Striking reductions in complications, kidney failure, deaths and health care costs are achievable through early detection programs and appropriate treatment.” Professor Hoy said there were three key aspects that required action by government:
- robust and sustained health care resourcing, based on the needs of individual communities and regions
- one option could include expanded and more flexible mechanisms of Medicare reimbursement that include regular screening as well as treatment , as often as needed, and for services delivered by health workers as well as nurses and doctors
- powerful incentives to attract and retain high quality health care providers in rural and remote areas.
The research was based on a study of three communities in the Northern Territory between 2000 and 2003. It is one of the most comprehensive studies of this type in the world and the first in Australia to compare the health profiles of Aboriginal people with those of the general Australian population. (Source : University of Queensland : July 2007)