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Medical institutes call for more funding to address NT's diabetes epidemic

Dechlan Brennan -

Addressing the type 2 diabetes epidemic in the Northern Territory through increased awareness and access to healthcare, as well as addressing the social determinants, are all focus areas for medical groups at a recent conference into the subject.

Presentations by both the Menzies School of Health Research (Menzies) and the Diabetes Across the Lifecourse: Northern Australia Partnership (the Partnership), at the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport Inquiry into Diabetes in Australia, offered a variety of insights.

This included the "crucial" need for co-design and collaboration to address the increasing rates of type 2 diabetes experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW) found 7.9 per, or 64,100, Indigenous people were living with diabetes. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were almost 3 times as likely to be living with diabetes as non-Indigenous people.

Chair of the partnership's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory group, Bardi-Jawi and Noongar woman Sian Graham, said the current system was failing her people.

"Watching my family and people get sick young, live with horrific complications and not live the lives they deserve is not ok," Ms Graham said.

She called for greater funding to support "co-designed, community led programs" that helped to prevent, treat and manage diabetes.

"I urge the Government to work in genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to deliver community-led programs and adopt community led strategies to stop the devastating outcomes of this preventable and manageable condition," Ms Graham said.

A Menzies statement said it was "imperative to act now to stem the tidal wave of type 2 diabetes".

"40 per cent of remote Aboriginal adults living in central Australia are living with diabetes, which is the highest rate of diabetes recorded."

Menzies deputy director (research), Professor Louise Maple-Brown, said it was vital Australia addressed the social determinants of health, which drive the cycle of diabetes.

"Our research has highlighted the intergenerational nature of type 2 diabetes impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from a young age," Professor Maple-Brown said.

"Working in partnership with communities, health services, researchers and policy makers we are reducing risks of type 2 diabetes as early as possible in the life-course, with a particular focus before, during and after pregnancy."

Professor Maple-Brown highlighted the vital importance of utilising the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, like Ms Graham, with lived experiences of type 2 diabetes.

In 2021, AIHW said the age-standardised prevalence rate of diabetes was 1.8 times higher for those living in the lowest socioeconomic areas as in the highest socioeconomic areas.

Menzies said access to high quality care was a human right, affecting not only diabetes, but other long-term health outcomes.

They said they advocated for workforce strategies to ensure all communities, regardless of geography, had access to appropriate health-care services.

"Adequately resourcing primary health care and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-based workforce was also among recommendations made," Menzies said.

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