'No appetite for innovation' to tackle Indigenous disadvantage

Posted March 16, 2017 11:10:46

An Indigenous organisation training kids to be health ambassadors in their communities says Australian governments have no appetite for innovation in efforts to close the gap.

The most recent report card showed Australia is failing six out of the seven key measures to address Indigenous disadvantage including life expectancy, child mortality and health.

Malpa Project chief executive Don Palmer believes the Government is ignoring proven solutions.

"There are real solutions the Government ought to attend to but the history is the Government defunds things that work, and funds things that don't work," he says.

"So they repeat those mistakes over and over again.

"There is no appetite for innovation and those in government have run out of ideas, and refuse to listen to other ideas that do work, of which ours is just one."

The Malpa Project is a non-government funded organisation established four years ago in response to the lack of progress in closing the gap.

Its Young Doctors program trains 9 and 10-year-old children to be health ambassadors for their communities by teaching health literacy, nutrition, hygiene, leadership and environmental health.

They learn both western and traditional medicine and healing from Indigenous doctors, clinicians, and healers.

So far 600 Young Doctors have graduated from the program in 40 remote, regional and metropolitan communities in NSW, NT, South Australia, Victoria and the ACT.

A further 450 Young Doctors will be trained this year. In each case Malpa has been invited by the community.

Mr Palmer believes the program's success lies in the fact that it is community-led, not imposed.

"We've created a system where elders in the community work out what they think their kids need to be healthy and have a long life, and then they choose two of their local people to be the leaders," he says.

"Those leaders then bring in experts from within the community, and that might be other Indigenous doctors or traditional knowledge holders who teach the old ways of medicine, but also local western doctors through the Indigenous Doctors Association."

As well as teaching children health and hygiene, the Young Doctors program is community capacity building.

"We can point to so many different examples, and we've evaluated them all," Mr Palmer says.

"We know we get school attendance up around 98 per cent, we know we get kids saying they're happy to go to a doctor whereas before they weren't.

"And we know parents are saying they're happy to become involved in the life of the school whereas before they never felt that school was a place that welcomed them at all.

"Lots and lots of benefits are happening out of this."

Topics:indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, community-and-society, indigenous-policy, government-and-politics, australia

Read more http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-16/no-appetite-for-innovation-to-tackle-indigenous-disadvantage/8358840