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JOINING THE BIG DATA DOTS ON INDIGENOUS HEALTH POLICY

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Big data analysis is providing a stark focus for boosting health outcomes for Indigenous Australians, whether it’s mental distress, rates of chronic disease or just getting a birth certificate

Research conclusions can appear obvious in retrospect. But until the data is actually crunched we can’t know, and it is the knowing that is crucial for generating evidence-informed policy.

Indigenous Australians aged 45 and up report high levels of psychological distressat more than twice the rate of other Australians. A staggering 20 per cent of middle aged and older Indigenous Australians are in high psychological distress compared to 7.5 per cent broadly.

We’ve known this for a while. But now for the first time this data has been analysedto better understand what is driving the distress.

The researchers found that distress is strongly correlated with chronic illness and disability. In other words, Indigenous Australians are more distressed possibly because they are more unwell.

It seems obvious, but it is a clear policy message.

NUMBERS CAN DRIVE POLICY

“In health, there are many things that we think we know but it isn’t until you gather the data and get the hard figures that we can be sure,” says lead researcher Dr Bridgette McNamara of the University of Melbourne, who was at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute when the research was done last year.

“Often, it isn’t until we have these hard figures that we can encourage a real policy debate on how to improve a situation.

“We found that one in two Indigenous Australians who had a chronic diseases or disability were also highly distressed, which underscores the simple importance of ill-health in contributing to high levels of distress.”

Dr McNamara is part of a team of Indigenous-focused population health researchers at the University led by Professor Sandra Eades, the Associate Dean (Indigenous) within the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.

A Noongar woman from Western Australia and the first Aboriginal medical doctor to be awarded a PhD (in 2003), Professor Eades is leading new research efforts to gather and analyse “big data” on the health of Indigenous Australians.

The aim is to provide the figures to better inform health policies that so far have achieved mixed progress on closing the substantial health gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“What we’ve highlighted here is that mental health will need to be a major focus over the next decade in terms of the Close the Gap campaign,” says Professor Eades.

“We already have programs for people when they are at the point of suffering depression, or anxiety or post-traumatic stress. But we also need to look more closely at the factors that contribute to these outcomes and develop programs that can change people’s life trajectories.”

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Article Credit: Pursuit

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