Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health


These pages have information about the work of the Aboriginal Health Policy unit. Throughout this site the term 'Aboriginal' includes Torres Strait Islander people.

The Northern Territory context

There was an estimated 74,546 Aboriginal Territorians residing in the Northern Territory (NT) in June 2017. This accounted for over 30% of the total NT population and 10% of the total Australian Aboriginal population.

Aboriginal people represent approximately 70% of consumers in the NT public hospital services and are a significant health consumer group for NT Health.

Aboriginal Territorians experience high rates of social disadvantage, poverty and low levels of health literacy. These factors contribute to higher rates of poor health and mortality compared to non-Aboriginal Territorians.

The Aboriginal population is younger than non‐Aboriginal population, with half of the Aboriginal population being under 24 years old. This reflects the higher birth rate and lower life expectancy experienced by Aboriginal Territorians.

The NT covers an area of 1,349,129 square kilometres, with 70% of Aboriginal Territorians living in remote areas. Nearly half of the land in the NT is Aboriginal land.

The NT has one of the most diverse Aboriginal populations, with over 100 different Aboriginal languages spoken in the NT.

These unique characteristics along with the inherent challenges arising from geography, climate and the spread and size of communities all impact on service provision.

As a society, rates of chronic disease are increasing. Between 2011 to 2015 Aboriginal people made up nearly two-thirds of deaths in the NT from chronic diseases (including cancer, diabetes, and respiratory diseases).

Infectious diseases are also prevalent partly due to poor sanitation and overcrowding. A key challenge for remote Aboriginal communities is the management of communicable and infectious diseases leading to chronic conditions such as rheumatic heart disease, trachoma and many other conditions.

Targeted, culturally appropriate public health approaches to improve the health of the population are essential to reduce the prevalence of disease, particularly in remote communities.

The longer term care and management of older Aboriginal people is an increasing challenge. With the ageing population and improvements in life expectancy there is significant growth projected in the older Aboriginal age groups.

By 2041 the proportion of Aboriginal people in the older age groups is projected to nearly triple. This presents additional challenges for a range of services including dementia care, aged care, opportunities to age ‘on country’ and access to palliative care services.

Significant effort over the years has resulted in some improvements, but the challenge of closing the gap in health inequality remains. Some of these identified challenges are being addressed through a range of programs, policies and frameworks coordinated through the Aboriginal Health Policy unit.

Contact the Aboriginal Health Policy unit by email at AboriginalPolicy.DoH@nt.gov.au or phone 08 8999 2873.

About the Aboriginal Health Policy unit

The Aboriginal Health Policy unit provides evidence-based policy advice and leadership to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal Territorians and is central to NT Health's efforts to provide integrated and consumer centred care that is accessible, effective and culturally safe and responsive.

The unit supports a range of functions including:

  • strategic projects
  • policy development and implementation
  • advocacy
  • advice
  • research
  • reporting and performance measurement against national priorities
  • facilitating pathways for communities to have control of primary health care services based on aspirations and needs.

The unit has three main strategic priorities and policy frameworks, including the:

  • NT Health Aboriginal Health Plan
  • NT Cultural Security Framework
  • Pathways to Community Control.

The unit has a range of key information and resources to support and guide you on matters of strategic importance relating to Aboriginal health, social wellbeing​​ and cultural security. Contact the Aboriginal Health Policy unit by email at AboriginalPolicy.DoH@nt.gov.au or phone 08 8999 2873 for copies of these resources.

NT Health Aboriginal Health Plan

The Aboriginal Health Policy unit supports the development and implementation of health policy to support the provision of culturally secure health services to improve Aboriginal health outcomes in the Northern Territory (NT).

The NT Health Aboriginal Health Plan 2021-2031 PDF (13.7 MB)​ builds on the previous NT Aboriginal Health Plan 2015-2018 with a new vision of 'Working together for a healthier future for all Aboriginal Territorians'. The plan is a long term evidence based policy framework, which sets the strategic directions that will guide our actions to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal Territorians over the next 10 years.

It will influence and inform strategic and business planning, policy development, communication, relationships and partnerships with Aboriginal Territorians, communities and organisations.

The plan has been developed to guide NT Health investment in implementation of five strategic directions:

  • improving health service delivery to Aboriginal people and communities
  • building effective and sustainable partnerships
  • delivering culturally secure and safe services
  • strengthening the health workforce
  • improving Aboriginal population health and promoting wellbeing.

Contact the Aboriginal Health Policy unit by email at AboriginalPolicy.DoH@nt.gov.au or phone 08 8999 2873.

Aboriginal cultural security

The NT Health Aboriginal Cultural Security Policy PDF (2.0 MB) aims to strengthen Aboriginal Territorians' access to and benefits of health services by ensuring that the health system recognises the centrality of culture in delivering successful health outcomes.

The NT Health Aboriginal Cultural Security Framework 2016-2026 PDF (7.4 MB) assists to develop culturally safe and responsive health services for Aboriginal Territorians. The framework outlines the following broad cultural security priorities:

  • building the diversity of the health workforce and strengthening skills in cultural safety and cultural responsiveness
  • ensuring that communication between Aboriginal consumers and health professionals is effective and leads to ethical, safe and high quality care
  • embedding cultural security through a whole of organisation approach so that approaches are systemic and are supported through accountability and governance
  • supporting emerging and established leadership to drive improvements in cultural security
  • enhancing consumer and community participation so that Aboriginal people and communities partner in service provision, planning, development and evaluation
  • investing in quality improvement, planning, research and evaluation to support ongoing learning and improvement in cultural security.

Contact the Aboriginal Health Policy unit by email at AboriginalPolicy.DoH@nt.gov.au or phone 08 8999 2873.

Pathways to community control

NT Health is committed to working with health care consumers, carers and communities to ensure a health care system that involves Aboriginal Territorians as active partners in healthcare including improving access to timely, quality, and patient focused health care across the Territory.

This encompasses the Transition of Remote Primary Health Care Services to Aboriginal Community Control policy, facilitating pathways for communities to have more control over their own affairs, including service delivery based on a community's aspirations and needs.

Community control refers to the principle that Aboriginal communities have the right to participate in decision making that affects their lives, such as health and wellbeing. It also refers to the organisational model of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services that has existed for nearly 50 years. It is acknowledged that community controlled governance of health services is the optimal expression of the right of Aboriginal people to participate in decision making.

Remote primary health care transitions are guided by the NT Aboriginal Health Forum (NTAHF) Pathways to Community Control which supports and further promotes Aboriginal community control in the planning, development and provision of primary health care services.   NT Health, is a partner member of NTAHF and assesses Expressions of Interest in alignment with the Pathways to Community Control Transition Criteria, Principles for the transition of remote primary health care services and Primary Health Care Transitions to Aboriginal Community Control - Approval Framework.

Contact the Aboriginal Health Policy unit by email at AboriginalPolicy.DoH@nt.gov.au or phone 08 8999 2873.