Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

Our research focuses on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and disability issues, with the aim to improve health outcomes, promote social and emotional wellbeing and address health, educational and social inequities.

The team draws on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's knowledge, leadership and practice by working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities. Together we identify complex problems for investigation, agree on the most culturally appropriate and rigorous research methods, interpret the results and disseminate new knowledge back to communities and policy makers.

The philosophical stance of our research is self-determination and human rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This multidisciplinary theme comprises members from all disciplines of the faculty, who work to ensure the highest ethical principles and values are embedded in our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research.

Members of the research theme partner with and work alongside Indigenous communities across Australia and in other nations around the world. These relationships foster knowledge sharing and result in improvement of practice on a global scale.

Meet our researchers

John Gilroy

Dr John Gilroy
Research leader

I was born with a profound speech impairment and mild hearing impairment related to a respiratory condition called rhinitis. I was often teased and bullied by my school peers for my disability and my Aboriginality. After high school, I worked as a volunteer in disability and ageing services.

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Through this work, I became aware that disability service providers really want to be culturally inclusive for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. What was missing was Aboriginal-community-driven research. It was from this moment that I worked towards becoming a lead researcher in Aboriginal disability and health research at the University of Sydney.

There have been two big moments in my career to date. The first was being invited by an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation in Central Australia to help lead a large-scale disability research project in remote regions. The second was being invited to establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research stream for the Centre for Disability Research and Policy.

Jennifer Alison

Professor Jennifer Alison

Aboriginal health disadvantage is prominent in chronic lung disease with a much higher prevalence in Indigenous Australians than in non-Indigenous Australians, and with a five times higher rate of hospitalisations. The latter is significant for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people due to dislocation from family, especially if hospitals are distant from the communities in which they live. Pulmonary rehabilitation has strong evidence of effectiveness in improving health-related quality of life and reducing hospitalisations.

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In my current research, funded by an NHMRC Global Alliance of Chronic Diseases grant, I am working with Aboriginal communities to better understand how to provide evidence-based care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with chronic lung disease. The project is using a culturally specific program, Breathe Easy Walk Easy Lungs for Life (BE WELL) which aims to upskill Aboriginal health workers in their understanding of chronic lung disease and increase their ability to assess patients, and to help implement culturally appropriate pulmonary rehabilitation programs.

As Chair of the Australian Pulmonary Rehabilitation Network for the Lung Foundation Australia, I am advocating for pulmonary rehabilitation to be provided in primary care settings to enable much greater access for all people with debilitating chronic lung disease, including those in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Vanessa Lee

Dr Vanessa Lee
Research leader

Coming from the oldest living culture, Yupungathi and Meriam nations, where we have no language word for research, I found myself marrying my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural ways of doing, knowing and being (taught to me by my grandmother) with my western research expertise of social epidemiology in public health. Social epidemiology is research on the social issues of the burden of disease from the foundation of the social, cultural and political determinants, and in my case, of First Nations people.

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My research focus for the last 15 years has involved applying my social epidemiology lens to a variety of health challenges, such as BE WELL (an NHMRC-funded project exploring best practice for lung disease in Indigenous people); a new model of care to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s breast screening attendance rates; identifying the political determinants of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services; and evaluating Indigenous core competencies in Master of Public Health programs nationally.

I’m also an advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice in health, as the first national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Vice President of the Public Health Association and as a director for Suicide Prevention Australia, providing an Indigenous social epidemiological perspective to suicide prevention for all Australia.