Source: The Australian, 27 July, 1994, p.3

Aboriginal areas suffer worst death rates

   THE Northern Territory, with its 
high Aboriginal population, has 
Australia's highest mortality rate, 
while the affluent Australian Capital 
Territory has the lowest, according to 
a study published yesterday. 
   In the first study to marry trends in 
mortality with regional 
characteristics, the Australian Bureau 
of Statistics and the National Centre 
for Epidemiology and Population 
Health have pinpointed the nation's 
death spots. 
   Australians are at higher risk Of 
dying if they live in frontier or inner- 
city areas, are Aboriginal, poor or 
unemployed. The risk is lowest in 
affluent areas of stable employment 
close to medical care. 
   Defying long-term trends,like falling 
mortality rates and an ageing 
population, a handful of localities are 
experiencing death rates up to eight 
times the national average in certain 
   The study shows the suicide rate in 
southern Tasmania runs at twice the 
national average. 
   The danger zones for other causes of 
death are: heart disease (Macquarie- 
Barwon, NSW); cancer (Wodonga, 
Vic); stroke (Mackay, Qld); motor 
vehicle accidents (Wimmera, Vic, 
Barossa, SA); liver disease (Darwin, 
NT); diabetes (Melbourne's northern 
   The report found that compared with the 
national average, 26.5 per cent of 
Australians live in a high-mortality 
area while 32 per cent live in a low- 
mortality area. 
   Every Northern Territorian lives in a 
high-mortality area, compared with 91 
per cent of Tasmanians and 42 per cent 
of the NSW population. There are no 
high-mortality areas in the ACT.  
   Computing standardised mortality 
ratios-the ratio of the observed to 
expected deaths, multiplied by 
100-the study then ranked 190 
different localities according to 11 
causes Of death. The Australian 
average in each category was 100. 
   Areas with high Aboriginal 
populations showed the highest 
overall death rates: in the Northern 
Territory, East Arnhem (370), 
Bathurst-Melville (346), Alligator 
(334) recorded the highest ratios, 
followed by Western Australia's Ord, 
Fitzroy and Carnegie. 
   The director of the Australian National 
University's NCEPH, Professor 
Robert Douglas, said the report 
shows Aboriginal health continues to 
be a growing concern in Australia's 
overall health pattern. 
   "Aboriginal mortality floods a lot of 
(the report) ... in some places the 
Aboriginal mortality rate is 3.7 times 
higher than the national average. 
   "The report highlights the importance 
of disease and deaths in Aboriginal 
communities that we appear to have 
under control in the Caucasian 
community. These include diabetes, 
chronic lung disease, car accidents, 
suicide, kidney and liver disease." 
   The lowest rates were seen in areas of 
relatively high socio-economic 
advantage: the ACT, Hornsby- 
Kuringai in Sydney's north, 
Queensland's Beaudesert and Pine 
Rivers shires, Mackay and the 
Sunshine Coast, Onkaparinga in 
South Australia and Campion in 
Western Australia 
   The Federal President of the Australian 
Medical Association, Dr Brendan 
Nelson, said yesterday: "The health 
status of Aboriginal people needs to 
be the nation's number one priority in 
   "With South Africa moving away from 
apartheid the world will be looking 
more to Australia as an area of main 
concern ... whatever health indicator 
you use, Aborigines have a health 
status equating to countries like Papua 
New Guinea and India."

Where to next?

Student Questions for this article
Teacher Discussion of this article
Index - Related articles
Index - Data Representation
Main Index - Numeracy in the News