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NHMRC funds new Centre for Research Excellence in Indigenous Health

27 October 2016
Funding leadership for health and happiness

The NHMRC has funded an alliance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, health services, clinicians and researchers across Australia to develop a suite of workforce development, prevention and treatment programs.

Announced today by Federal Health Minister the Hon. Sussan Ley, a new Centre for Research Excellence in Indigenous Health unites the skills and experience of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal leaders in the health, teaching, research and policy sectors. The centre will focus on building and supporting a cohort of Aboriginal researchers to find solutions to alcohol problems.

Led by the University of Sydney’s Professor Kate Conigrave the Centre will expand programs that have shown promise in reducing risky drinking, improving mental health and increasing empowerment in Aboriginal people. It will further develop and evaluate pilot programs that have shown promise in urban and regional settings in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia.

This program is founded on strong partnerships with Aboriginal community-controlled health services, communities and health professionals across Australia.
Professor Kate Conigrave, University of Sydney

“Critically, this program is founded on strong partnerships with Aboriginal community-controlled health services, communities and health professionals across Australia,” Professor Conigrave said.

“It represents an exciting opportunity that unites leading Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal researchers, clinicians and policy experts across the country. This field has been characterised by piecemeal efforts to address alcohol-related problems but clearly needs a broad range of integrated actions.”

Aboriginal co-chief investigator of the new centre, Scott Wilson, underlined the need for responses that account for the array of social, cultural, psychological and economic issues underlying alcohol-related harm in Aboriginal Australians.

“This is an ambitious program that will draw together a broad range of responses,” said Mr Wilson, Director of the Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council of South Australia.

“These include assistance for unhealthy drinking in Aboriginal community-controlled health services; treatment and aftercare for alcohol dependence in other settings; grass-roots community-led prevention; and improving research methods.”

The centre will provide much needed research in building evidence-based culturally sensitive models of care for addressing risky drinking for Indigenous Australians attending general practice settings.
Aboriginal co-chief investigator, Associate Professor Noel Hayman

Associate Professor Noel Hayman, an Aboriginal co-chief investigator and Clinical Director of the Inala Indigenous Health Service in Brisbane, added: “The centre will provide much needed research in building evidence-based culturally sensitive models of care for addressing risky drinking for Indigenous Australians attending general practice settings.”

Despite widespread community concern about alcohol, and broad acknowledgement of the key role that Aboriginal Australians have in leading solutions, there is a critical shortage of Aboriginal researchers with expertise in preventing and treating alcohol problems. The centre will grow and build the capacity of Aboriginal research leaders through a well-defined program of training and support.

It will also provide Aboriginal researchers with strong and supportive links to non-Aboriginal research leaders and clinicians in the field. Recruitment, training and career development of Aboriginal researchers will be supported through research traineeships, PhD stipends and support of early career researchers.

We know there is much work to be done with Indigenous health outcomes. This government is committed to making long-term improvements in Indigenous health and providing opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers.
Federal Health Minister, The Hon. Sussan Ley

Alcohol-related harm in Aboriginal Australians

Underlining these efforts is the urgent need to find better ways to understand, treat and prevent Aboriginal alcohol problems.

For example, Aboriginal Australians are up to eight times more likely to be hospitalised, and five times more likely to die from an alcohol-related condition, than non-Aboriginal Australians.  Factors such as grief, loss, trauma and marginalisation put Aboriginal Australians at greater risk of alcohol problems if they drink. However, alcohol problems can then make the individual’s and the family’s situation worse.

Research published by the centre’s chief investigators reveals that women often bear a heavy burden from alcohol-related harm: Aboriginal women aged 30-44 being 18 times more likely to be victims of violence or homicide than non-Aboriginal women.

Alcohol causes both acute and chronic, and both physical and mental, ill health. Aboriginal Australians aged 15-29 years are four to five times more likely to die from alcohol-related suicide than their non-Aboriginal peers. Alcohol imposes a heavy toll on families and communities, including on the developing fetus.

Many Aboriginal services and communities have worked towards reducing alcohol-related harms. This centre offers the opportunity to draw together such cultural and community expertise with research, clinical and policy expertise, and to grow the evidence base for what works. In the process the centre will build and support a critical mass of skilled Aboriginal researchers in this complex and sensitive field.

Chief investigators of the new Centre for Research Excellence in Indigenous Health

The centre draws together the expertise of teams of researchers, clinicians and policy makers at seven sites: the University of Sydney, the Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council South Australia, the University of New South Wales, Inala Indigenous Health Service, the Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service (NSW), Central Queensland University and the University of Queensland.

The centre’s leadership team is: Professor Katherine Conigrave, University of Sydney and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital; Mr Scott Wilson, Director of the Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council (SA) Inc; Professor Anthony Shakeshaft, Deputy Director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales;  Associate Professor Noel Hayman, Director of the Inala Indigenous Health Service, Queensland;  Professor Paul Haber, University of Sydney and Clinical Director of Drug Health Services, Sydney Local Health District; Dr Kylie Lee, University of Sydney; Associate Professor Rowena Ivers, Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service (NSW); Professor Christopher Doran, Central Queensland University; and Dr Anton Clifford, University of Queensland.

Over the past 10-15 years, these investigators have pioneered the development of groundbreaking alcohol prevention and treatment programs, as well as research, training and policy initiatives in community, clinical and corrective service settings.

Because they have a unique mix of clinical experience, health services development, and policy expertise, the Centre’s leadership team offers rich opportunities for new and emerging Indigenous researchers, and for professionals and leaders to join this effort to break cycles of alcohol-related harm. The team’s makeup also ensures both clinically relevant research and a high capacity for translation of research into practice and policy. Their collaborative networks will provide an enduring environment of support, advice and opportunity to the Indigenous researchers recruited through the new Centre.  

Dan Gaffney

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