Feature Story – Health Round-Up

The latest in Indigenous health news from around Australia.

Remote Babies at Risk
Indigenous health researchers have found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers who live in remote areas are 14 per cent less likely to have a healthy baby than mothers living in regional or city areas.

Researchers from the School of Women’s and Children’s Health at the University of NSW and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare National Perinatal Statistics Unit found that only three out of four babies born to Indigenous mothers fell into the “healthy baby” category, and those born in remote areas were particularly disadvantaged.

The study found that the health of Indigenous mothers in remote areas partly explains the higher prevalence of unhealthy babies, with Indigenous mothers from remote areas more likely to have diabetes or hypertension, and be younger ” all risk factors for a baby’s health outcomes.

Land Rights = Better Health
Health experts claim that handing back control over remote areas to traditional owners could help improve the overall health of Indigenous people.

“Over the past 30 years, there has been a steady growth in research indicating that Indigenous people who regain ownership and control of their traditional lands enjoy improved health,” says Nicole Watson, Senior Research Fellow at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology Sydney.

Research also suggests that recent changes to land rights could have a negative impact on the health of Indigenous populations.

It’s believed that these recent amendments may take away control from the traditional owners of the land.

“Although the health impacts are impossible to predict, early reports of lack of consultation and the use of infrastructure as an enticement into the scheme are cause for concern,” Nicole says.

“It appears that Indigenous groups who not only regain ownership of their traditional lands, but also exercise control over their affairs, enjoy improved health.”

Live and Learn
Two medical students, both with a passion for rural medicine, have been awarded the Australian Medical Association Indigenous Peoples’ Medical Scholarships for 2007.

The scholarships were awarded to Shelly Fraser of James Cook University and Sarah Dunn from the University of NSW.

Valued at $9000 each for each year of study, the scholarships provide support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students studying medicine, and are designed to encourage more Indigenous students to consider a career in medicine.

Sarah, a sixth year student studying for her degree in medicine and surgery and who grew up in rural Australia, says her career goal is work as a general practitioner in rural Australia.

“To me rural general practice embodies what medicine should be,” she says. “Despite Australia’s excellent standard of healthcare, inequalities still exist for rural and Indigenous Australians.”

Shelly spent 10 years working as a policewoman in rural Australia before making the switch to medicine as a mature-age student.

“I think it’s important for all students to gain rural practice experience and find out first-hand what it’s like to work in rural and remote areas and with Indigenous communities,” she says.

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