Poster Presentation Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference 2016

Aboriginal health defined in the interplay of community, culture and empowerment and how this can transform health services (#423)

Rosalie Schultz 1 , Tammy Abbott 2 , Jessica Yamaguchi 3 , Steve J Quinn 4 , Sheree Cairney 1 2
  1. Centre for Remote Health, Flinders University, Alice Springs, NT, Australia
  2. Ninti One, Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation, Alice Springs, NT, Australia
  3. Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Information and Evaluation Branch, Canberra, ACT, Australia
  4. Biostatistics, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Health has a range of definitions. The choice of definition used in developing health services determines many aspects of the health services. If health is defined as absence of disease, then services will follow a medical approach to prevent and manage disease. If the health definition is focused on individual people, then services will be provided for individual people.

The National Aboriginal Health Strategy noted in 1989:1‘Aboriginal health is not just the physical wellbeing of an individual but is the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community in which each individual is able to achieve their full potential thereby bringing about the total wellbeing of their community. It is a whole-of-life view and includes the cyclical concept of lifedeath–life. Health to Aboriginal peoples is a matter of determining all aspects of their life, including control over their physical environment, of dignity, of community self-esteem, and of justice. It is not merely a matter off the provision of doctors, hospitals, medicines or the absence of disease and incapacity’.

Thus Aboriginal definitions of health used in the Aboriginal Health Strategy reflect identity, community and culture. Aboriginal people continue to consider health in this way, even though the use of this definition has declined.

The Interplay Project is exploring the factors that contribute to the wellbeing of remote Aboriginal people.2 Important factors identified in interviews for the project are culture, community, empowerment, education, employment and health. Thus for remote Aboriginal people, health is only one contributor to wellbeing. Using these findings, the Interplay Project will support the development of health and other services that meet the needs of remote Aboriginal people.

Development strategies for remote Aboriginal people must focus on the educational, economic and health needs that the people themselves define, based on their culture and identity.

  1. National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Group. National Aboriginal Health Strategy. Canberra: National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Group, 1989.
  2. Nguyen O, Cairney S. Literature review of the interplay between education, employment, health and wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote areas: Working towards an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wellbeing framework Kent Town SA: Ninti One Limited; 2013 [cited 2016 August]. Available from: