The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has identified injury as a leading cause of premature death amongst Indigenous Australians, particularly amongst those aged 1-34 years of age.
“The Australasian Injury Prevention Network (AIPN) acknowledges this report, which shows that there are clear differences between the health of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia, especially in relation to injury. The difference in life expectancy is estimated to be between 10 and 12 years” said Associate Professor Kerrianne Watt, President, AIPN.
“Death from injury is tragic and preventable. When someone dies from an injury, their lifespan is cut short prematurely. We describe this as years of life lost. The Australian Burden of Disease Study: fatal burden of disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2010 found that there are 404 deaths from injury among the Indigenous population every year. This results in 21 000 years of life lost every year in the Indigenous population in Australia, from injury”, added Associate Professor Watt.
“We know that Indigenous Australians are three times more likely to die and twice as likely to be hospitalised as a result of injury than non-Indigenous Australians, and the AIHW study identifies injury as one of the health conditions that we can make the biggest difference in closing this gap” added Associate Professor Watt.
“We need a concentrated effort across all levels of government to address this issue, and develop culturally specific injury prevention programs for Indigenous Australians”.
“The cost of injury deaths among Indigenous people includes loss of life, and also deep grieving for family and community members, ; costs of hospitalisation and to the health system; as well as the unseen costs of injury that are more difficult to measure, yet have a ripple effect throughout communities” added Associate Professor Watt.
According to Professor Kathy Clapham, Director of the Woolyungah Indigenous Centre at the University of Wollongong, and also a member of the AIPN, the Australian population has benefited over many years from injury prevention programs but the Indigenous population seems to have been left behind. “Whether it is injury from intentional causes, such as violence and suicide, or injury from unintentional causes, such as burns, poisoning and road traffic crashes, these rates are unacceptably high, particularly when we are talking about children and young people under 34 years of age. We need to work with Indigenous communities to develop targeted programs which are culturally effective to reduce these high rates of injury”, she said.
“Who within Government is responsible for addressing injury prevention in Indigenous Australians, and how much money is being committed to support this area? We have seen injury prevention and safety promotion services cut throughout Australia, particularly within preventative health program areas, so is Indigenous health just another area to be cut during the upcoming Federal budget?” questioned Associate Professor Watt.
The AIHW report recommended that more can be done to reduce Indigenous deaths, but that efforts should primarily focus on prevention as well as management of existing health conditions. “Without increasing attention to prevention, deaths and disability from serious injury will continue to rise in the Indigenous population”, Associate Professor Watt said.
A more comprehensive report on the burden of disease for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be released in 2016, covering fatal and non-fatal burden for specific causes, as well as the burden attributable to selected health risk factors.