Sharing Knowledge: health impacts of climate change on Indigenous Australians

At present, there is only limited understanding about what role, if any, climate plays in affecting the health of Indigenous Australians, their communities, their culture and their country. This project aims to offer greater insight into the complex causes of disease and well-being among Indigenous Australians, so that future health and climate adaptation strategies have a greater chance of closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians’ health.

We are undertaking two research projects that look at the impact of climate on the health and well-being of Indigenous Australians. This three-year programme began in 2011, and is funded by the NHMRC. A team of researchers from UNSW and UWS lead the projects, working in partnership with Indigenous organisations and researchers from across northern Australia.

The first project explores the relationships between Health and climate by analysing 20 years of admissions data from major hospitals in northern and central Australia, and relates those findings to climate data. This analysis will identify whether there is any relationship between the climate and the rates of various diseases among Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. In particular, we are looking at whether there has been any historical change in hospital admissions for a range of diseases that the literature suggests are affected by climatic conditions, such as extreme heat or humidity. These diseases include heart disease, renal failure and influenza.

The findings of this study will identify people who are likely to be at highest risk of serious illness in the future from higher temperatures and humidity caused by climate change. We anticipate that these findings will be significant in developing more targeted health and climate adaptation strategies. Read more…

The well-being project examines connections between the health of Indigenous individuals and the health of their community, their culture and their country. This work is being carried out in partnership with APN Cape York, based in Aurukun, which represents Aboriginal families from the Watson River south to the Kendall River on the Cape York Peninsula.

We are conducting a series of trips with Wik and Kugu traditional owners and elders to their traditional land, to film them talking about what they remember about their country, and how it has changed. Much of their country is now only accessible by boat or helicopter from Aurukun, and consequently, many people are not able to regularly return to it. By facilitating people’s return to country, we hope to begin to reconnect people to their traditional lands and to encourage a strengthening of the connection between Elders and the younger generations through re-engaging in cultural practice and knowledge sharing back on country. Read more...

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