A majority, 59 percent, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are at an elevated risk of developing severe illness from Covid-19 due to ongoing health inequities, a major study led by The Australian National University (ANU) has found.
The study examined the prevalence of health factors like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and smoking among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults, which all increase the risk of severe illness if an unvaccinated person gets Covid.
According to a statement by the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), which summarises the findings, the study found more than half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults have these and other existing conditions. These could increase the risk of needing intensive care admission, requiring mechanical ventilation, or death if they contract Covid-19 and are not vaccinated.
First Nations ‘must remain a priority group’
The study was undertaken by researchers and health practitioners at ANU, NACCHO, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Lowitja Institute.
Their findings, the researchers say, reinforce that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians “must remain a priority group” for the nation’s vaccine rollout and broader pandemic response, rather than being simply labelled “vulnerable”.
“The root cause of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ elevated risk of severe Covid-19 illness is health inequity, stemming from colonisation and racism,” lead researcher Dr Katie Thurber, from ANU, said.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults who have high household income, live in advantaged areas, are food secure, do not experience discrimination, were not forcibly removed from family, and have access to healthcare are at significantly lower risk of severe illness if they contract Covid-19.
Lack of access to key health determinants
“If all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had access to these key determinants of health, it is likely that risk of severe illness from Covid would be much lower in the population.
Thurber added: “Our study makes it very clear; because of these long-term inequities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must continue to be treated as one of the highest priority groups in our pandemic response.”
Dr Jason Agostino, who is from ANU and a medical advisor to NACCHO, said: “We found that three-in-five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults have at least one of these risk factors.
“This means there are almost 300,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults who are at higher risk of getting very sick if they are not vaccinated and get Covid.”