Indigenous leaders call for an end to racism in the health system

10 Mar 2021

Deep-seated resistance to addressing institutional and systemic racism in our health system is thwarting progress towards improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, say Indigenous leaders in an important paper published today.

The authors of the Perspective, published in Public Health Research & Practice, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute, write that institutional racism leads to a dismissal of Indigenous knowledges, worldviews and cultural practices that must be incorporated into healthcare provision if we are to close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Dr Carmen Parter
Dr Carmen Parter

“Our paper gives voice to Indigenous communities who have consistently said that racism is a critical issue in the provision of healthcare, as is the incorporation of culture into the design of healthcare services,” says lead author Dr Carmen Parter, Senior Research Fellow at the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at The University of Queensland.

“When an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person accesses a healthcare service, there is always a level of mistrust and fear. A lot of people forget that our health system was one of the many institutions involved in the ‘Stolen Generation’ that took children from their families and communities – which still happens today. Those stories resonate through our communities.”

The paper’s authors say it is critical that healthcare provision to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples incorporates Indigenous worldviews, which can be very different to those of the Western medical establishment.

“Indigenous worldviews take into consideration not just treatment of the physical body but also spiritual, emotional, social and cultural dimensions such as connection to country and Indigenous identity. It’s very different to how the Western world works,” says Dr Parter.

“When Indigenous knowledges are incorporated into services and programs, research has shown that health outcomes are improved.

The paper outlines a model of practice where different knowledges and cultures can co-exist, which the authors say could be instrumental in closing the gap in life expectancy by 2031.

“Privileging Indigenous knowledges, cultures and voices must be front and centre in developing, designing and implementing policies and programs,” the authors write.

Read the original ax Institute article