The issue of ‘Closing the Gap’ for Indigenous Australians is addressed through each aspect of the 1986 Ottawa Charter as it provides a framework upon which to base numerous policies and procedures which tackle the implementation of social justice principles in relation to health promotion. Developing personal skills enables individuals to access information and become empowered to claim their rights. Education of this sort can happen informally and formally.
Many Indigenous Australians are disengaged at school, as evident by the overall low rates of attendance of the major schools, as well as markedly lower levels of academic achievement. Indigenous students are also less informed about higher education opportunities than non- Indigenous students, which in turn have detrimental effects on their occupational opportunities later in life. In order to improve the responsibility of Indigenous student’s participation in learning, the Literacy and Numeracy NP Agreement aims to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes of students in schools with low levels of achievement.
This partnership demonstrated particularly strong improvements. For example, the proportion of Indigenous students at or above the national minimum standard improved by 11. 4% for year 3 reading in Queensland, around 17% for year 7 Reading in Western Australia and approximately 16% for year 3 in the Northern Territory. These statistics portray the vital role education plays in developing personal skills, in order to enable individuals with equitable opportunities to other non-indigenous students across the country.
Through access to education, individuals have greater advantages to enhanced occupational opportunities, and therefore becoming more active in their community, engaging health promotion actions and building healthy public policies. Encouraging and supporting an increase in the participation of Indigenous Australians in the health workforce is an important workforce development strategy, as well as an essential goal to pursue for equity reasons.
By ensuring that non-indigenous health professions improve their knowledge of Indigenous health issues, the Government is not only creating more diverse informed opinions and experiences in health issues throughout communities, but also advocates greater community action. One way this is achieved is through the National Indigenous Health Workforce Training Plan, which provides mentoring and networking for young indigenous doctors and nurses, a network of indigenous community controlled training organisations for Aboriginal Health Workers, and the establishment of the new Aboriginal Health Worker Association.
In addition to this, the Puggy hunter Memorial Scholarship Scheme encourages more indigenous Australians to enter health professions, and proves to be successful as the number of scholarships allocated in an academic year to support Indigenous Australians to study health-related disciplines increased from 215 in 2008 to 275 in 2012.
This improvement depicts the importance of Indigenous participation in the health workforce, not only to enhance educational opportunities but also to provide a more comfortable and supportive environment for Indigenous individuals seeking medical advice and creating a stronger relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous practitioners. In order to create supportive environments, a level of community action must be attained to raise awareness of people’s rights, promote equity and facilitate participation by community members.
One method of strengthening community actions is by implementing Community Justice Groups, working on local issues, in cooperation with police, courts, probation services and juvenile justice, and the prevention of crime through programs and activities. Since the establishment of the Kowanyama and Palm Island justice group in Queensland in 1994, as evident from police statistics, court records and community sources, there has been a significant reduction in juvenile crime.
This, in turn creates a much more positive community surrounding, empowering the right to a supportive, and comfortable environment, by participating the community members to strengthen public action. This recognition of participation in community action and the importance of comfortable surroundings for the forward moving health promotion of Indigenous Australians are essential in the strategy of creating supportive environments.
Poor housing is a major contributor to inadequate, unsafe living conditions that lead to the spread of infectious diseases, however many indigenous Australians live in insufficient, overcrowded houses, often in remote areas. A lack of access to health services, due to living in rural areas, results in the unavailability of essential health information on everyday living, such as safe and healthy housing. The Fixing Houses for Better Health development policy has implemented a series of projects, aiming to improve the health of the Indigenous Australians’ living in remote areas, by improving the physical environment in which they live and maintaining this overtime.
A series of FHBH projects have assessed and fixed health hardware in 2 400 houses across Australia, improving health and reducing infectious diseases such as diarrhoea, skin infections and pneumonia, as well as protecting residents from electrocution, fire, gas leakage and exposure to contaminated waste-water. By employing more than 400 local indigenous people on the on-going work projects, and ensuring they receive ‘on the tools’ training on basic maintenance, this not only provides individuals access to healthy lifestyle information, but also supplies the community with a comfortable and familiar work environment.
Another imperative concept that promotes equity and improves access to health services by supporting disadvantaged Indigenous Australians is reorienting health services. The Aboriginal Maternal and Infant Health Strategy targets pregnancy and postnatal programs for Aboriginal women and infants, providing a state-wide training and support program for midwives and Aboriginal health workers.
Through the successful implementation of Indigenous care givers, developed partnerships with other organisations and using the multidisciplinary team approach, overall health improvements are clearly evident. For example, in relation to indigenous women, the births to women aged less than 20 years has decreased, the proportion attending their first antenatal care visit before 20 weeks development increased significantly and the proportion reported smoking in the second half of their pregnancy decreased.
These measures suggest that with the access and support of healthy information and health professions, individuals are enabled to take the responsibility of using the knowledge provided by health services and develop the skills necessary to practice them. It is therefore clearly evident that with the assistance of the Ottawa Charter and social justice principles, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian’s is narrowing. Greater health promotion and a deeper understanding of different cultures is enabling Australia to build towards a healthier nation.
Courtney from Study Moose
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