University study provides blueprint to improve Indigenous health outcomes

University study provides blueprint to improve Indigenous health outcomes

A new study examined how New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi can be used as a blueprint to improve Maori health outcomes by giving them control over their own health policies – an idea that could also applied to Australia’s own Indigenous population.

The study, authored by Charles Sturt University (CSU) senior research fellow Dominic O’Sullivan, Auckland University of Technology’s Dr Heather Came, and Massey University’s Tim McCreanor, argued that the Maori should develop and implement their own health policies as the Treaty affirms Maori control over their own affairs. 

“Maori knowledge can be used in policy development, and Maori values determine whether or not a proposed policy should be implemented,” said O’Sullivan.

According to O’Sullivan, that same idea can be used in Australia, as it could improve Indigenous health outcomes instead of being simply a measure of symbolic recognition.

“Although treaties are not required to ensure Indigenous policy leadership, clauses that respect an Indigenous nation’s authority over its own affairs and that acknowledge that Australian citizenship implies equal capacity to influence decision-making can have far-reaching effects.”

Taking consideration of Indigenous culture

In an article published in The Conversation, Beth Armstrong, foundation chair in speech pathology at Edith Cowan University, and Juli Coffin, Ellison Professor of Aboriginal Research at Telethon Kids Institute, said that Indigenous Australians specifically need healthcare that considers their cultural needs.

After interviewing Aboriginal people who have experienced brain injuries, Armstrong and Coffin found that these patients had poor communication with non-Aboriginal hospital staff – making them feel vulnerable and alone.

The same could be said for health service providers who said they did not feel confident working with Aboriginal patients and their families.

“Aboriginal understandings of health and wellness, and how these understandings differ from Western biomedical models, need to be better reflected in practice,” the authors wrote.

“The Aboriginal construct of health is a holistic model that perceives physical, psychological, spiritual, cultural, social, environmental and economic factors as affecting a person’s functioning.”

Armstrong and Professor Coffin further recommended that aside from systematic change to accommodate Indigenous peoples, there is a need for involvement as well as leadership from Aboriginal researchers, as well as health professionals and consumers to improve healthcare.