The quest to ‘close the gap’ in health and life expectation outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is an ongoing policy goal.
On this ‘Closing the Gap‘ day, it’s important to acknowledge that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still have a lower life expectancy than non-Indigenous people. In fact, the mortality and life expectancy gaps have widened (largely due to improvements in these areas for non-Indigenous people).
Research has consistently found unique needs for First Nations people when it comes to alcohol and other drug related harms.
Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are less likely to drink alcohol than the general population, those that do drink experience higher levels of alcohol related harms. The current death rate for alcohol consumption within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is five times higher than the general population. . The rate of drug-induced deaths (which can include the use of multiple drugs at the same time) is 1.9 times higher.
In 2021, there still remains much work to be done. Achieving equality in life expectancy and closing the gap in life expectancy, within a generation, is not on track to be met by 2031.
Complex issues require collaboration, time and persistence. It is widely agreed that solutions are most successful when they are led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves.
The 2020 Closing the Gap report acknowledged that a genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which values their expertise and lived experience, is integral to achieving equality in health outcomes.
In 2019, the Council of Australian Governments and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations signed a Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap. Sixteen target areas for improvement were formed within the framework of this newly formed partnership.
Although none of the 16 target areas directly target alcohol and drug issues, they fit easily into every single target.
The 16 targets focus on maternal and child health, incarceration and crime, educational and financial improvements for indigenous Australians and minimising alcohol and drug usage would improve all of those areas.
The gap in the alcohol and other drug sector is a great chasm. Adequate funding, appropriately targeted research and culturally sensitive practice will be the driving factors in closing this gap.