Health Care Act

Aboriginal Health Case Study


We acknowledge the resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in achieving personal, family and community wellbeing despite adverse social, environmental and economic factors.

The health and wellness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is a significant concern for all Australian governments.[i] We are aware of the complexities of the health system’s engagement with Aboriginal South Australians and the social, environmental and economic factors that adversely affect Aboriginal health. Aboriginal health as a priority reporting area for us.

The health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are improved by respect of Indigenous knowledges, histories, cultures, kinship relationships and community processes.[ii]  Health services that provide culturally-appropriate treatment are able to successfully draw on the extraordinary strength, wisdom and endurance of Aboriginal Australians to support individuals to achieve and maintain wellness and to enhance the wellbeing of families and communities.



In our 2008-2010 review of the health system, Reflecting on Results, we assessed South Australia's public health system performance against the Aboriginal health objectives in its strategic plan. We found Aboriginal health outcomes remained unacceptable and access was limited to services which were culturally appropriate and relevant to the needs of Aboriginal people.  While there were encouraging instances of successful programs, we found there was no demonstration of overall improved health outcomes for Aboriginal people. 

Our consultation with community and clinicians in 2011-12 highlighted that some progress has been made in some areas, which is supported by quantitative data on improving rates of low birthweight for example. Yet there are also continuing challenges, such as shortcomings in access to culturally appropriate services. We are therefore again reviewed the status of Aboriginal health and the health system’s response to it during 2011-2014.



Given the many aspects which contribute to or detract from Aboriginal South Australians' health, the scope of our case study is limited by necessity. To determine areas of highest priority, we are focusing on:

  • specific issues which we said in our 2010 report we would examine again
  • priorities in SA Health's Aboriginal Health Care Plan 2010-2016, a framework for investment in Aboriginal health, and
  • areas which Aboriginal leaders told us were particularly important to their communities.


Who was involved?

We collaborated on elements of this case study with the Wardliparringga Aboriginal Research Unit at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute. We also consulted closely with the Aboriginal Health Council of SA to develop our priority focus areas and on our examination of workforce issues.

We consulted more widely with Aboriginal health leaders and Aboriginal leaders in other areas through two Aboriginal Leaders' Forums in 2013 and 2014.  We asked these leaders:

  • for their valuable knowledge and experience about available data, and
  • whether our identified priority areas aligned with those of Aboriginal leaders.

A working group of Aboriginal leaders from across government, university and community-controlled sectors worked closely with us outside the forums.  Their support was an important element to the forums being a success.



The finalised reports were released on 6 November 2014 and can be downloaded here:

State of Our Health Aboriginal Population Compendium is a collection of key quantitative measures presented without judgement or interpretation, intended to be a resource for researchers and policy makers, and. 

Aboriginal Health in South Australia 2011-2014: A Case Study interprets these measures and other data to assess how the health system is performing for Aboriginal people.


Find out more about Our 2011-14 Review, Progress on Our 2011-14 Projects, Our Community Engagement, and the first part of our 2011-14 analysis, our State of Our Health project.

[i] Evidenced by the “Closing the Gap” priorities of the Council of Australian Governments

[ii] BL Beagan, ‘“Is this worth getting into a big fuss over?” Everyday racism in medical school,’ Medical Education, vol. 37, no. 10, 2003, pp. 852-860.

N Pearce, S Foliaki et al, 'Genetics, race, ethnicity, and health,' BMJ, vol. 328, no. 7447, 2004, pp. 1070-1072.

C Shannon, 'Acculturation: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nutrition,' Asia pacific journal of clinical nutrition, vol. 11, sup 3, 2002, S576-578.