Indigenous health: chronically inadequate responses to damning statistics

Paul Bauert, Elizabeth McMaugh, Carmel M Martin and Janet K Smylie
Med J Aust 2003; 178 (5): 246.
Published online: 3 March 2003

To the Editor: We welcome Ring and Brown's editorial comment1 on the Public Report Card 2002 No More Excuses,2 produced by the Australian Medical Association's Task Force on Indigenous Health. We hope that drawing attention to the poor outcomes of Indigenous Australians will catalyse Federal and State governments to take action, particularly as international comparisons demonstrate the likelihood of success.

Australia's poor performance in relation to its Indigenous people is a complex phenomenon, involving political, sociocultural and historical factors, as well as health factors. Levels of ill health among Indigenous communities in post-colonial Australia, Canada and New Zealand are particularly disturbing from a global health perspective, as they persist despite the relative affluence and excellent health status enjoyed by the general population in these nations. One of the difficulties in assessing progress is the lack of high-quality data for comparative purposes.

The types of indicators of Indigenous health in common use in Australia, Canada and New Zealand range from central indicators (such as the age-standardised rate ratios for Aboriginal people) to secondary indicators (such as change in the prevalence and incidence of chronic diseases, like diabetes, in Aboriginal communities). It would be useful to develop additional indicators that more closely reflect Aboriginal community knowledge models and values.3 Existing indicators emphasise outcomes rather than opportunities for early intervention, such as early childhood development and youth resilience. Finally, there need to be greater attempts to explore how to use and compare international experiences to help Indigenous people most effectively. The Memorandum of Understanding between the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Medical Research Council of Australia, and the Health Research Council of New Zealand may provide a framework for international collaboration.4

  • Paul Bauert
  • Elizabeth McMaugh
  • Carmel M Martin
  • Janet K Smylie


  • 1. Ring I, Brown N. Indigenous health: chronically inadequate responses to damning statistics. Med J Aust 2002; 177: 629-631. <eMJA full text>
  • 2. Australian Medical Association. Public Report Card 2002. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health. No more excuses. Canberra: AMA, 2002. Media releases 24 May 2002. Available at:
  • 3. Macaulay AC, Commanda LE, Freeman WL, et al. Participatory research maximises community and lay involvement. North American Primary Care Research Group. BMJ 1999; 319: 774-778.
  • 4. Memorandum of Understanding between the Canadian Institute of Health Research the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and the Health Research Council of New Zealand on Cooperation on Health Research for Indigenous Populations. Available at (accessed December 2002).


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