The National First Nations Chronic Diseases Close The Gap Conference is scheduled to be held on July 22-24, 2024 in Gold Coast, Queensland. Over the past ten years, the conference has attracted thousands of attendees bringing together representatives from all states and territories governments, First Nations medical services and mainstream health sectors, community-controlled organisations, First Nations communities, allied health professionals and non-government organisations, primary health networks and researchers. The conference is hosted by Indigenous Conference Services (Australia) with a great line up of First Nations speakers from all throughout Australia in partnership with grassroots community organisations. The conference will provide insights into the successes of Indigenous organisations and health care professionals, focusing on solutions to First Nation’s peoples with chronic diseases and highlights the successes of chronic disease policies and management programs implemented in Indigenous communities.
The conference will highlight many of the achievements gained against the four major chronic diseases namely cancer, diabetes, kidney and heart failure issues and the battle to stem the ongoing diseases within First Nations communities.
Cancer is a significant health issue among First Nations populations, with higher rates of some cancers and poorer outcomes compared to non-Indigenous populations. First Nations patients often face barriers to accessing healthcare, including geographical isolation, cultural differences, and a lack of healthcare resources in rural and remote communities. These factors can result in late diagnosis and a lack of access to effective treatments, leading to higher rates of cancer-related deaths. Addressing these disparities requires a comprehensive approach that takes into account the unique cultural and socio-economic circumstances of Indigenous populations and involves community-led solutions to improve access to cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment. Similarly, First Nations Australians are disproportionately affected by diabetes with rates of diabetes being two to four times higher than in non-Indigenous populations.
The reasons for this disparity are complex and multifactorial, but include a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. The impact of diabetes can result in a range of serious health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, and amputations. Diabetes can also impact on mental health, reduce quality of life and increase the burden of care on families and communities. Furthermore, kidney disease is a significant health issue affecting Indigenous people in Australia. Indigenous Australians are overrepresented in the rates of kidney disease, with Indigenous people four to five times more likely to develop end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) than non-Indigenous Australians. This high prevalence of kidney disease is largely due to the higher rates of diabetes and hypertension due to lack of access to healthy food, limited access to healthcare, and a higher burden of infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and C, which can also cause kidney disease. Addressing these issues will require a multi-faceted approach that addresses the social determinants of health, improves access to care, and promotes greater cultural understanding and sensitivity in the healthcare system. Moreover, heart disease is another major health concern for First Nations peoples with studies showing that the prevalence of heart disease in Indigenous populations is about 50% higher. This disparity is largely due to a higher prevalence of risk factors such as smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity, and high blood pressure.
One of the key contributing factors to the high rates of heart disease in First Nations communities is the legacy of colonization and the ongoing socio-economic disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians. This includes limited access to quality healthcare services, limited opportunities for physical activity, and exposure to unhealthy diets and environments. Furthermore, the ongoing impacts of trauma, including the Stolen Generations, have had a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous Australians, including their heart health.
Despite the high rates of heart disease in Indigenous communities, there has been limited investment in culturally appropriate and evidence-based programs to prevent and treat heart disease in these populations. This has resulted in a lack of access to appropriate and effective care, leading to poorer health outcomes for Indigenous Australians. To address this disparity, there is a need for a coordinated and sustained effort to address the underlying social determinants of health, as well as increasing investment in culturally appropriate and evidence-based programs to prevent and treat heart disease in Indigenous populations. This includes improving access to healthcare services, promoting healthy lifestyles, and addressing the ongoing impacts of colonization and socio-economic disadvantage. With the right support and resources, it is possible to improve the health and well-being of Indigenous Australians and reduce the burden of cardiovascular diseases in First Nations communities.
The event is based upon the principal belief that Indigenous health must be approached from a holistic view, which encompasses body, mind and spirit; thus, leading to the fundamental rights of self-determination. The conference recognises that treating our health must be done by treating the whole person, through mind, body, soul and culture. No matter what your culture is if you are a First Nations person, statistics show that health, education and the justice system is monstrously weighted against First Nations People. The 2021/2022 Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Report further highlights how wide the gap is. In today’s society, Indigenous people have a varied lifestyle, ranging from inner-city living to isolated communities. Therefore, there is no set approach to dealing with health issues, as you have to look at the environment that you live in and, more importantly, the agencies that are available to assist.
The conference is designed to bring together both government and non-government agencies who are working in the Indigenous health sector, therefore focusing on Indigenous Chronic Disease Health and strengthening the life expectancy of First Nations people to equal that of non-Indigenous people. In Australia, the most successful initiatives in First Nations Health are the Aboriginal Medical Services (AMS) and now the partnerships between government and communities. The first Aboriginal community-controlled health service was established in New South Wales and has been operational for the past forty (40) years. Today, there are over 120 AMS and countless numbers of Primary Health Care Posts in First Nations communities in Australia.
CONFERENCE THEME AND FOCUS
The conference theme includes:
Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and cancer affecting Indigenous communities
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander health care coordination
End of life care
Primary health network initiatives
Building capacities for improving health outcomes
Contemporary health initiatives, health policy, researchers, model of care
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health leadership, workforce sector development, e-health, tools/applications and resources.
The conference theme is based upon an approach of “Prevention is better than Cure” which require a collaborative partnership between all stakeholders, working together to support First Nations communities in addressing all forms of chronic disease. The foundation of the conference is to share and discuss positive models of change and initiatives. The event is structured in such a way as to develop a wider methodology towards preventative programs that are culturally appropriate and therefore more likely to succeed. This conference is devoted to showing the positives in addressing chronic diseases in our communities and families. Hence, the event has been developed with the belief that it is time to promote the positives and successes in chronic disease program whilst still recognising that we still have a long way to go.
The conference is not politically based. Rather, it should be seen as an opportunity to access information that is not readily available. Today the world has become smaller with the invention of the internet and jet travel. As such, we are of the belief that there is nothing more empowering and more effective than people having an opportunity to network and collaborate. The conference vision for this event is to embrace the philosophy of First Nations community controlled and mainstream service providers through promoting an informative forum of research, health education and training of staff for the betterment of Indigenous health.
The most powerful mechanism that First Nations people have is the strength to overcome adversity through the power of sharing knowledge and therefore the conference will attempt to foster all of the issues set out in this conference.
This conference aims to improve the cultural competence of the Indigenous health workforce with a greater focus on culture within health care education.
Responsible partnerships combined with strong community leadership and advocacy will optimise access, quality and sustainability of culturally safe and appropriate health services to address chronic conditions.
Facilitate and engage with First Nations with respect to the sharing of information
Contribute to identify community health needs and develop and implement local responses and services
Provide an open and frank platform for discussion
Support First Nations communities health professionals and peak bodies through further networking
Highlight the positives of work being achieved at all levels with respect to the many different chronic disease programs and issues
To paint a positive approach to the management of chronic diseases
Provide a stimulus for networking in co-operation/partnerships from individuals, community level through to government authorities.
Portraying the different various lifestyles from inner-city to isolated communities
Sharing of information in regards to agencies, individuals and programs that may assist in overcoming chronic disease issues
Bringing together both government and non-government agencies who are working in the field of Indigenous chronic diseases, focusing on Closing the Gap and strengthening the life expectancy of First Nations peoples to equal that of non-indigenous people.
Highlight unique issues that relate specifically to First Nations communities in relation to their environment and socio-economic status.
This event guarantees the opportunity to enlarge your network and information base, thus empowering all delegates to make greater informed decisions within their professional and extended communities. Furthermore, it has been proven time and time again that events such as this empower and reinvigorate workers with new ideas and enthusiasm, with a greater feeling of support and new contacts that may be utilised for the betterment of their own local community. Whether you are an allied health professional, Indigenous health worker, medical professional or in an administrative clerical role within the organisation, this conference will provide excellent opportunities to gain and share information that will be of use to you and your organisation back in your community. The opportunities that this Conference provides to people involved in First Nations Health is the sharing of knowledge and development of long-term friendships/partnerships. This conference is designed from an Indigenous perspective, in which we all lend support to each other regardless of our employers. With all this in mind, we invite you to actively participate in the upcoming event.