Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

Introduction

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.

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Last updated: 13 August 2021

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