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The Health Wrap: Social justice and the health gap, incarceration of Indigenous children, big data and health, and more.

This fortnight’s Health Wrap is compiled by Ellice Mol, Digital Communications Manager at the Sax Institute. Enjoy the Wrap and tweet us via @SaxInstitute if you have any ideas for future issues.

Social justice and the health gap

Making news this fortnight are the highly anticipated Boyer lectures. Over four weeks, the 2016 Boyer Lecture Series titled Fair Australia: Social Justice and the Health Gap will explore the challenges communities face in solving issues of health inequality.

The lectures, being delivered by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, President of the World Medical Association, have prompted a renewed focus on the social determinants of health and health inequalities.

Professor Marmot appeared on ABC’s Q&A program ahead of the lectures and ‘did not disappoint,’ reported Amy Coopes for Croakey. He told the audience that “the opposite of poverty is not wealth, it’s justice,” and in reference to Treasurer Scott Morrison’s recent commentary about Australia’s “taxed and taxed nots”, Marmot said “the evidence shows pretty clearly that the vast majority of people would rather be in work than on welfare”.

In the lead-up to the first lecture, this article by Professor Sharon Friel from ANU was published on The Conversation and explored the economic, social and health costs associated with inequities in wealth and income.

And in this complementary article on The Conversation, Flinders University’s Professor Fran Baum explored policy responses for reducing health inequities such as investment in education, urban planning, employment and criminal justice.

Croakey also reported on this timely study showing states in the US with a higher ratio of social to health spending had significantly better subsequent health outcomes for adult obesity, asthma, mentally unhealthy days, days with activity limitations, and mortality rates for lung cancer, acute myocardial infarction, and type 2 diabetes. The study suggests that a broader debate on investment in health — not only in health care but also in social services and public health — is warranted.

To mark the renewed focus on the social determinants of health and health inequalities from Marmot’s Boyer Lectures, Croakey  has released an e-publication featuring 24 key #SDOH articles that it has published over the years.

A summary of Marmot’s first Boyer lecture is available in this Croakey long-read by Amy Coopes. Ben Harris Roxas, Deputy-Director of the Centre for Health Equity Training, Research and Evaluation (CHETRE) at UNSW Australia, was also in the audience and wrote for Croakey about the points in the lecture that resonated most for him.

And of course you can listen to the first lecture in full, and the coming three lectures, at the ABC’s Boyer Lectures website.

Meanwhile, writing in The Guardian, Kingsley Faulkner argued that the public health lessons learned from the tobacco and cigarette industries regarding the impacts of powerful business on the health of the community must be applied to the fossil fuel industries. He wrote:

“Another cloud of preventable misery is gathering in our land and beyond our shores with the dangerous push to tolerate and expand coal mining and unconventional gas extraction. The reasons for political short-sightedness are similar to those that prevailed with tobacco and asbestos.”


Incarceration of Indigenous children

Croakey has reported on a sobering new report by Amnesty, published in the wake of incriminating new footage of an Aboriginal teenager being forcibly restrained by seven officers at Brisbane Corrections Centre and the Don Dale scandal reported by ABC’s Four Corners last month. According to the report, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 24 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous children on a national basis.

Claire Mallinson, director of Amnesty International Australia, said:

“Decades of harsh policies have seen too many kids, especially Indigenous kids, trapped in the criminal justice system.”

Amnesty has published 17 recommendations for the Queensland Government and four recommendations for the Commonwealth Government.

Meanwhile Labor placed pressure on Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion to explain why he did not act on reports of abuse of children at Darwin’s Don dale Detention Centre, ABC reports.

Sally Fitzpatrick and Megan Williams wrote this piece for Croakey on the call for a new governance arrangement with oversight and integrity with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. The #FirstPeoples1st100Days campaign calls on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to critically examine his relationship with the First Peoples’ elected leadership. The national Congress intends to present a signed Redfern Statement to the Prime Minister outlining principles for a new way of doing business.

Croakey published this article written by Sam Harkus, Principal Audiologist, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Services for Hearing Awareness Week on the link between hearing loss and Indigenous incarceration. Harkus says hearing loss is over-represented among prisoners and Aboriginal people are over-represented in gaols. She shares her experience working in the criminal justice systems and a story of how hearing loss can disempower.

And this touching Croakey article pays tribute to the 200 Aboriginal stockmen, house servants and families who walked off the Wave Hill Cattle Station in an historic protest that paved the way for Aboriginal land rights. Thousands of people across Australia came together to re-enact the protest in the remote Aboriginal community of Kalkaringji to mark 50 years since the Wave Hill walk off. This essay on The Conversation tells the untold story of the 1966 walk-off in more detail.


Big data and health

This article at Croakey reported on a review into how linked hospital data has been used for research purposes across Australia over the past two decades. It revealed there has been significant high value research resulting from linked data, but it has not been spread evenly across the states, with Western Australia and NSW dominating.

The review authors highlighted the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study as an example of where data linkage has played an important role in helping researchers answer a variety of research questions on hospitalisations due to specific infections and use of general practice and healthcare cost at end of life.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on a study called Bleeding Hearts, Profiteers or Both that used linked data from the 45 and Up Study to explore what specialists charge people in the top 25 per cent of income distribution compared with those in the bottom 25 per cent.  The study found the poorest patients were charged 19 per cent less for an initial consultation than high-income patients, in what economists interpret as a lack of competition in the market.

Meanwhile, the University of Queensland announced that research linking two decades of data on Australian women with outcomes for their children was set to provide new insights into child health and development. Researchers are inviting up to 10,000 mothers recruited into the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) in 1996 to provide information on abut 12,500 children aged 12 and under.

Research data on the impact of lockout laws on Sydney’s Kings Cross was the focus of this story in The Sydney Morning Herald  about a new report by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, a not-for-profit group working to stop the harm caused by alcohol. It argued that a range of alcohol restrictions introduced in 2014 had had less impact on patronage and business in Kings Cross than was often claimed − findings that were hotly disputed by the law’s opponents.

And data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed that the medical workforce has become skewed to specialist doctors while the number of general practitioners has barely changed in 10 years, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.


Branding woes for the ABC, increased risk of teen pregnancy

The ABC has faced criticism from public health experts for partnering with Swisse Wellness for their international media service Australia Plus. Leading the criticism is public health campaigner Dr Ken Harvey, who wrote this article for Croakey that outlines his concerns. Harvey was in the public spotlight in 2014, when he quit his position at La Trobe University over its decision to partner with Swisse Wellness to research its products.

Nick Murray, executive producer of the ABC’s The Checkout has also criticised the arrangement saying it shows an “appalling lack of judgment”, The Age reported. The ABC later moved to separate the Swisse Wellness logo from its other network partner Monash University on its Australia Plus website, following concerns from Monash academics, according the Sydney Morning Herald.

New research published in The Lancet has uncovered the surprising potential of a sex education program in Western Australia to increase the risk of teen pregnancy,  The Conversation has reported. The baby simulator program aims to deter teenagers from becoming pregnant by giving them a life-like baby doll to look after, but could instead increase the risk of pregnancy because girls may have felt a false sense of confidence in their simulated-infant care, it suggested.

World Health Organisation officials are gearing up for a major yellow fever vaccination campaign to halt a potential epidemic, STAT reports. To overcome the issue of a limited global supply of the vaccine officials plan to use a smaller dose than usual, a proposal that has been endorsed by WHO and Congo’s health ministry.


Other Croakey reading you may have missed:

Ellice Mol is the Digital Communications Manager at the Sax Institute. Follow @SaxInstitute or @eleechimo on Twitter.

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