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Issue #1657      September 24, 2014

Death Gap still about a decade

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still have a life expectancy gap of about 10 years less than other Australians. A report released last week by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), “Mortality and life expectancy of Indigenous Australians 2008 to 2012”, provides an overview of patterns and trends in mortality and life expectancy among Indigenous people.

RFDS nurse provides a health check to a newborn Indigenous baby.

It shows that the estimated life expectancy at birth for Indigenous males was 69.1, and for females it was 73.7 years, 10.6 and 9.5 years lower than the life expectancy of other males and females, respectively.

AIHW spokesperson Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman said several factors contributed to the gap in life expectancy. “Most significant among them are chronic diseases, with four groups of chronic conditions accounting for over two-thirds of the gap in mortality: circulatory diseases (24% of the gap), endocrine, metabolic and nutritional disorders (21%), cancer (12%), and respiratory diseases (12%),” he said.

Circulatory diseases were the leading cause of death among Indigenous Australians between 2008 and 2012 (representing 26% of Indigenous deaths), followed by cancer (20%) and injury (15%). Between 2008 and 2012, about two-thirds of Indigenous deaths occurred before the age of 65. In comparison, 19% of non-Indigenous people died before the age of 65.

“Declines in mortality”

“The improvement in life expectancy is driven by declines in mortality,” Dr AI-Yaman said. “The overall mortality rate among Indigenous Australians dropped by 9% between 2001 and 2012 and the rates from some causes have also dropped.

“For example, mortality rates from circulatory diseases dropped by about 30% for both males and females and mortality from respiratory diseases have dropped by 32%, for males between 2001 and 2012.

“However, while we’ve seen improvements in death rates from cancer among the non-Indigenous population, death rates from cancer rose from 212 per 100,000 people to 227 per 100,000, between 2001 and 2012 among Indigenous people. As such we’ve actually seen a widening of the gap in deaths from cancer.”

Between 2008 and 2012, cancer accounted for 20% of all Indigenous deaths, with lung cancer, the most common cancer death, accounting for 5.1% of deaths in Indigenous males and 4.7% in females. Lung cancer rates rose slightly in the Indigenous population from 2001 to 2012.

Deaths from kidney diseases were also higher in the Indigenous population. In 2008-12, Indigenous people died from kidney diseases at 2.6 times the rate of other Australians and kidney diseases represented 5% of the mortality gap.

“Higher rate”

“The higher rate of kidney disease mortality among the Indigenous population is likely to be due to factors including lower rates of kidney transplants for Indigenous Australians with treated end-stage kidney disease compared with non-Indigenous Australians, and increased mortality and transplant failure rate following a kidney transplant,” the report said.

The news wasn’t all bad, with the report finding a decline in mortality for the Indigenous population, mainly due to a large decline in infant mortality over the past decade.

Greens spokesperson on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues Rachel Siewert said the report highlighted the risks associated with the Abbott government’s Budget cuts to programs for Indigenous people. “In a disturbing move, this involves a significant cut to health programs,” she said.

“On top of half a billion dollars in funding cuts, there are a number of Budget decisions that will disproportionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including cuts to health programs, the GP co-payments and changes to income support.”

Koori Mail

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