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Improving Indigenous health outcomes

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8 April 2011

Artwork: Marlene Drysdale
Artwork: Marlene Drysdale

Monash University has launched a new school of Indigenous Health that will assist in bridging the gap between Indigenous Australian health outcomes and the non-Indigenous population.

“In Australia there is a significant gap between the health of Indigenous people and the rest of Australia,” Professor Steve Wesselingh, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash said. 

“We feel quite passionate the fact that our work in developing the work force and our efforts in research, should be aimed at reducing that gap,"

The School, made possible by a transformational gift of $10.5 million from the Harvest Alliance Foundation, will train and up-skill both Indigenous and non-Indigenous health workers, and establish community training sites where students can gain first hand clinical experience in Indigenous settings.

In conjunction with research, development of curriculum and community engagement, there will be opportunities for scholarships and post-graduate study.

“Monash has a real desire to affect change. We like the partnership with Monash. We believe we will achieve great change for the better.  There are a lot of people at Monash that think outside the square. The School is innovative and that’s important,” says Chairman of Harvest Alliance Foundation, Mr Alan Rancie,

As Indigenous Health Advisor to the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Mr Greg Phillips is playing an active role in the formation of the school.

“I feel very proud. It says to us that a major public institution is prioritising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and that they are taking on responsibility that rather than leaving it all to the Indigenous community alone,” says Mr Phillips.

“Importantly, Monash is also saying we don’t want to run over the top of Indigenous communities, we want to work in absolutely equal partnership with them and this school will be equally owned by the Aboriginal health community. I think the Aboriginal community will see that Monash’s commitment is there—not just in words but in dollar terms as well. A huge thank you must also go to the Harvest Alliance Foundation for their visionary support - it would have taken a lot longer to get this project going without them.”

“One of the reasons for setting up the School is that Indigenous people don’t just live in the bush. In terms of geographical access to health services, Indigenous Australians living in rural and remote areas are more vulnerable absolutely. But in terms of health outcomes across the board, i.e. diabetes and kidney disease for example; there’s not much difference with health outcomes between rural and urban communities,” Mr Phillips said.

Historically, the Faculty has addressed Indigenous Health as part of Rural Health School through the Monash University Department of Rural and Indigenous Health (MUDRIH).

The new Harvest Alliance School for Indigenous Health will work in conjunction with those efforts, and will rely on the expertise of MUDRIH’s Associate Professor Marlene Drysdale, other experts within Monash, Indigenous health bodies external to Monash, and critical partners like the Victorian Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO).

“I think it will make an enormous difference in terms of Aboriginal people being able to visually see somewhere and be able to identify with a place that is about health and that is about making a difference and hopefully will do something that is really constructive to close the gap,”  Associate Professor Drysdale said.

In five years time Mr Rancie says the Harvest Alliance Foundation anticipates more resources channelled into education and the visible benefits of the Monash program in action. 

“We’d like to see that Indigenous people are validated. We can learn more from Indigenous people.”

The Harvest Alliance School for Indigenous Health will begin taking students in 2012. This year a leadership team will be put in place.