Indigenous health 'a major problem'

April 11, 2006 - 3:54PM

The health of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders remains a major problem, new figures show.

However, stabilising levels of heart disease and asthma leave some room for optimism.

The national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health survey, conducted across 2004 and 2005, reveals that indigenous people are twice as likely as non-indigenous people to report their health as being either fair or poor.

The survey was the largest of its kind conducted.

About two-thirds of indigenous people have at least one long-term health problem and that figure rises to 80 per cent among those 55 years old and older.

Eye disease is the biggest contributor to indigenous health woes, with 30 per cent of the 10,439 people surveyed reporting sight problems.

The report found that indigenous Australians were almost three times more likely as non-indigenous people to have diabetes.

And one in three indigenous people in the 55-plus age group hade the disease.

Dr Ross Wilson, who has worked for many years as a locum to Aboriginal communities in far western NSW, said the statistics confirmed what he saw every day.

Dr Wilson is working in Coonamble this week, about 150 kilometres north west of Dubbo, where he has been treating Aboriginal people for a range of problems including diabetes, ear infections and alcoholism.

"Management of diabetes and renal disease should be the absolute top priorities for Aboriginal health," Dr Wilson said.

He also raised concerns about access to dental care, which was near impossible to get in the town of 2,500.

"Just walking down the street the other day I saw a number of Aboriginal people who basically needed a full set of new teeth," Dr Wilson said.

"If your choppers aren't right then the rest of your nutrition will be poor."

The survey shows 11 per cent of indigenous people over the age of 15 have never visited a dentist, rising to 24 per cent in remote areas.

The report found some glimmer of hope as rates of hearing loss and ear disease among indigenous people dropped from 15 per cent in 2001 to 12 per cent.