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Indigenous physiotherapist focuses on closing the gap

Indigenous physiotherapist focuses on closing the
Photo: Indigenous physiotherapist focuses on closing the
Bleak health outcomes from the Close the Gap report came as a disappointment to Indigenous physiotherapist Danielle Dries.

Ms Dries, a Kaurna-Meyunna woman originally from South Australia and winner of the Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA) Allied Health Inspiration Award, introduced Prime Minister Tony Abbott ahead of the report at the parliamentary event held in Canberra last week.

“I was definitely disappointed,” she said.

“You always hope that it’s going to be improving. There are some things that are changing but I guess you have to look at it on a community level and see how much health inequality there still is.”

The 2015 Close the Gap Progress and Priorities Report found the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians stands at 10 years.
It also shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are more than three times likely to have diabetes, more than four times as likely to be in the advanced stages of chronic kidney disease, and almost twice as likely to have a high level of triglycerides in their blood – a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Ms Dries said while the report focused on Indigenous Australians in remote communities, health inequalities also exist in regional and metropolitan areas.

“Sometimes I think that Aboriginal people are a little bit forgotten in city areas as well…my Nan in Adelaide has had diabetes since she was 29.

“There’s definitely health problems in cities as well and health inequality in cities but I don’t think they acknowledged that very well in the report.”

The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) has urged the Federal Government to improve physiotherapy access as a key component of primary health care in a bid to prevent, detect and manage chronic health conditions in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

APA chief executive Cris Massis said physiotherapists are experts in managing chronic conditions alongside musculoskeletal and respiratory diseases.

“The APA believes there should be more investment in physiotherapy in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations as well as other programs to improve workforce availability and culturally appropriate physiotherapy services,” he said.

“There are not enough Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander physiotherapists in Australia.

“We need greater investment in opportunities for Indigenous Australians to be part of the workforce and provide culturally appropriate physiotherapy services.

“It will lead to better health, social, economic outcomes to benefit Australia.”

An Indigenous officer on the National Rural Health Student Network’s executive committee, Ms Dries also recently spoke in the Senate about the challenges facing Indigenous health students.

She said more universities and workplaces need to become culturally safe in a bid to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“It’s through education, and that’s where the Indigenous health curriculum improves everything, and also in high school and primary school, because people then have a better understanding of who Indigenous people are and where they come from and not everyone looks the same.

“There also needs to be support centres or organisations everywhere where Indigenous people can come together and say - well this happened to me, and debrief about it.

“To be able to let it go and move on and keep doing your work but also educating people at the same time to be able to have that strength to stand up and say to someone - that was actually inappropriate to say because…and then educate the person on why it’s inappropriate.”

Ms Dries finished her physiotherapy degree at Charles Sturt University in Albury 2011 and worked at Sydney’s North Shore Hospital before completing a 10-week rotation in Lismore.

A member of the APA, Ms Dries is now in her third year of a medicine degree and has her sights set on working in rural and remote Indigenous communities.

The APA has developed a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) to advocate for better access and to engage more physiotherapists in Indigenous health, through raising awareness, educational and professional development opportunities.

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords