The health of Indigenous Australians
ISBN: 978-0-19-551220; 2004; 552 pages; Oxford University Press;
Associate Professor in Nursing; Director of the Cultural Safety Research Unit, Graduate School of Nursing and Midwifery, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
This book was published three years ago, but its value has not diminished. Editor Neil Thomson has assembled, under one cover, data that details the state of the health of aboriginal Australians – what many refer to as the country’s ‘national disgrace’.
In its 21 chapters, the book spells out the health issues for Aboriginals, but it doesn’t stop there. It not only discusses how the poor health outcomes occurred but considers what needs to be done in the future. Important links are made to the complex factors that contribute to poor health – social, economic and environmental.
As Henry Councillor, chairperson of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, says in his foreword: the publication ‘represents a major advance in the breadth and depth of information available’. Of particular interest to Councillor are the chapters on injury and disability.
In her foreword, Australian of the Year 2003, Professor Fiona Stanley lauds the book not only for the description of the health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders but also for increasing our understanding about why the status is the way it is and what can be done about it.
Each of the 21 authors provides an introduction to their specialty chapter followed by evidence of the current health outcomes including comments about prevention and strategies. Each chapter ends with a summary drawing attention to what needs to happen plus areas of research left to do. End-of-chapter references provide further reading for people interested in pursuing the subject.
Editor Neil Thomson was the driving force behind the amazing project. He also lays out the context for the book in an introduction entitled: The need for indigenous health information and ties it all together in the final chapter: Responding to our ‘spectacular failure’. Thomson is at his best in this final chapter where he synthesizes material from across the chapters with a focus on addressing the ‘spectacular failure’. It begins with an overview of indigenous health, discusses reasons for the limited progress, covers development in the mid-1990s and more recently, and concludes that without a co-ordinate approach ‘it is likely that our ‘spectacular failure’ will continue well into the future.’
Most of the chapters were written by Thomson and staff at the Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia. Readers of epidemiological studies, such as those addressed in this book will not be disappointed with the 92 tables and 19 figures that help inform the issues in each chapter. Perhaps the most dramatic indicator of all is life expectancy – aboriginals live about 20 years less than the Australian population at large. I also found the four pages of medical and organizational abbreviations valuable.
The Health of Indigenous Australians deserves a place on the bookshelves of all nurses and other health professionals interested in the future of Australia. It will appeal to all involved in indigenous health, policymakers, programme implementers and politicians. Finally, the book is a reference for undergraduate and postgraduate students of public health, health science, medicine, nursing and indigenous primary health care. The Health of Indigenous Australians complements the second edition of Aboriginal Primary Health Care: An Evidence-Based Approach also published in 2003.