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Big steps forward in Aboriginal health

Saturday, 28th February, 2015

By Emily Roberts

A report released on the health and well-being of Aboriginal people in the region has shown large improvements in a number of areas.

Maari Ma Health Aboriginal Corporation has released a new report which monitors the health, development and well-being of Aboriginal children and young people in Far Western NSW.

Maari Ma’s CEO, Bob Davis, said the report was an important indicator for the health service and all service providers in the region.

“The report is the second in an intended on-going series and is a significant volume,” he said.

“It also highlights those areas where further work is required.”

Since 2005, Maari Ma has been implementing its Healthy Start program, aimed at improving the health of Aboriginal children in the Maari Ma region by focusing on care to pregnant Aboriginal women, their children and families. 

In 2009, Maari Ma started its Early Years Project which looked to improve aspects of early childhood development such as literacy, language, emotional well-being and social development.

“When we started the Early Years Project in 2009, we published the first report in this series, bringing together all the data related to children, and in particular Aboriginal children and their families, so we could monitor whether or not our work was having an impact,” Mr Davis said.

“Five years on, we are starting to see some positive movements. There is still a long way to go but Maari Ma is in this for the long haul.”

Maari Ma Child Health Advisor, Dr Garth Alperstein, said there has been a number of improvements come from the first survey, five years ago.

“We started the healthy start program a number of years ago,” Dr Alperstein said.

“We decided to collect data every five years on the health and wellbeing of children in the Far West, predominately Aboriginal children, but not exclusive to them.”

He said there have been noticeable changes in a number of areas.

“There has been an improvement in the infant mortality rate. The number of children suffering chronic ear infections and chronic respiratory conditions has also decreased,” Dr Alperstein said.

“The breast feeding rate is very good ñ it is up by 80 per cent, but it is hard for us to determine how long it lasts after leaving the hospital.

“The rate of Aboriginal women smoking in pregnancy is dropping (down from 78 per cent in the first report to 45 per cent in this current report). 

“Dental health is improving for children who have permanent teeth and we are looking to work on programs for the health of baby teeth.”

Dr Alperstein said they compared the results to other areas around the region.

“As well as comparing the new results to the data five years ago, we compared Maari Ma’s results with other regions in NSW.

“The results are showing that things are better than last time.

“Retention for students in Years 10-12 is better than last time, and the immunisation rate for children starting school is at 90 per cent - which is very, very good.”

He said the health organisation has a number of programs in place.

“Often you don’t see results straight away - it takes time and the gains are slow,” Dr Alperstein said.

“But we also work closely with other organisations.

“We will be keeping tabs on the research and if something is not working we will look to introduce other programs.

“It is valuable to collect this data, not only for us but for other services.

“The bottom line is that there has been significant improvement over time.

“It is an important part of our services to know where the gaps are and where there needs to be more effort.”

(Copies of the report can be downloaded from Maari Ma’s website www.maarima.com.au).

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