Monday, March 26, 2012

Murray Chapman Speaking Series: Dr Tom Calma lecture

Recently I attended a lecture given by Dr Tom Calma as part of the Murray Chapman Speaking Series.  The Speaking Series is an initiative of the Reconciliation Action Plan Committee in honour of the late Murray Chapman, a passionate advocate for reconciliation and the father of one of my close friends.

Dr Calma is involved with indigenous affairs at local, national and international levels, and has been for many years.  He is currently a Social Justice Commissioner with Reconciliation Australia and the National Coordinator to Tackle Indigenous Smoking.

During his speech, Dr Calma discussed indigenous health outcomes, which, on the whole, are significantly worse than those of non-indigenous Australians.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities experience higher incidences of infant mortality and deaths in middle adult ages than non-indigenous communities.  A number of “lifestyle” factors contribute to poor health outcomes, such as tobacco and alcohol consumption, obesity, physical inactivity and high cholesterol. 
Dr Calma’s approach to closing the gap on indigenous health issues is informed by a human rights and developmental approach to health.  He reminded the audience that every statistic is a life, and it is important not to lose sight of the individual’s needs in implementing health programs and reforms.  The Close the Gap campaign adopts this human rights based approach to improving indigenous health outcomes, and complements the Federal Government’s Closing the Gap program.

The social determinants of health also play a key role in developing strategies to improve the health of Australia’s indigenous population, with 75% of the indigenous population living in urban areas and 50% of indigenous households surviving on minimum wage. 

In a wealthy and developed nation like Australia, Dr Calma asserted, it is not credible to believe that health crises affecting less than 3% of the population cannot be successfully addressed.  Such success will rely on the continued ability of official programs to engage meaningfully with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

Heather McGowan
Research Assistant

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