New research programs to help close the gap for Aboriginal children

28 February 2019
Aboriginal health
Dragonfly by Leanne Tobin

The federal government has announced funding for a new 10-year Indigenous Health Research program to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In working to Close the Gap in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, three major priorities have been set by the program, which address the biggest preventable health challenges faced by Aboriginal communities. The priorities were identified by an advisory panel comprising prominent Indigenous research experts and community leaders, making it the the first national research fund led by Indigenous people. The priorities are:

  • Ending avoidable blindness
  • Ending avoidable deafness
  • Ending rheumatic heart disease

Sadly, these conditions have their beginnings early in life, with children as young as four being diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease (RHD), a condition that has life-long effects and is rarely seen in non-Aboriginal people.  As part of the total $160M pledged to the program, $35 million will go towards a vaccine preventing RHD, and will be led by child health research colleagues at the Telethon Kids Institute in Western Australia.

"It is time to come together as a nation to work as partners in bringing equity in health outcomes. Ending RHD is a critical, tangible target to close the gap in Indigenous life expectancy,"  Minister for Indigenous Health, Ken Wyatt AM, said at the announcement.

Similarly to RHD, permanent hearing loss from a childhood ear infection known as glue ear (otitis media) is not uncommon in Aboriginal communities. It poses a significant barrier in speech and language development, as well as difficulties learning at school, due to poor hearing.  

Researchers at Kids Research have been working to improve outcomes in these priority areas through several projects and collaborations, such as the SEARCH study. This study has demonstrated the success of co-developed early intervention strategies through the establishment of the HEALS hearing and langauge service in 2013, which delivered more than 5,700 services to over 700 children in its first two years of operation.

You can read more in the full media relase.

You can read about the Sydney Children's Hospitals Network's commitment to Closing the Gap in the Aboriginal Health Strategic Plan.

Header image: Dance of the Dragonflies by Leanne Tobin

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