Murdoch University launches first of its kind Indigenous health research centre
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Murdoch University launches first of its kind Indigenous health research centre

Murdoch University announced the launch of a new Indigenous health research centre – the first of its kind in Australia – to address the urgent and complex ‘wicked’ health problems affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and social equity.

Led by Aboriginal maternal and child health academic Professor Rhonda Marriott and patroned by child and Aboriginal health advocate Professor Fiona Stanley and Federal Minister for Indigenous Health Wyatt, Ngangk Yira Research Centre for Aboriginal Health and Social Equity is set to focus on transnational research that provides practical solutions to improve health, educational and social outcomes for Aboriginal families and their communities.

The centre facilitates research by Aboriginal researchers in partnership with leading WA and international, maternal health, youth resilience and mental health experts and services and with the close involvement of community elders and stakeholders.

“Taking a connected life course approach from pregnancy, to young adulthood, and parenthood the Centre’s research recognises that a strong start in life is fundamental for healthy and resilient children, families and communities,” Professor Marriott said. “To grow strong Aboriginal communities, we must start at the beginning by supporting mothers and families every step of the journey from pregnancy. Even before a baby is born, the environment has a big impact on lifelong social, physical and emotional health.”

Murdoch University Vice Chancellor Professor, Eeva Leinonen, said Ngangk Yira’s work had the potential to transform the real-life experiences of Aboriginal families and their communities.

“We will be pioneering the practical changes that will change the life course of the next generation of Aboriginal youth, and informing key changes to state and national policy, practice and education to support these outcomes,” Professor Leinonen added.

Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt, anticipates the work of the centre will help to push out life expectancy and reduce the prevalence rates of renal disease and many of the later chronic conditions because children will grow up healthy and resilient.

“Targeting and understanding the social and cultural determinants of health is crucial, because these factors can account for up to half the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians,” he said. “The centre’s work is about giving children the best start in life and the opportunity to reach their full potential as they grow into adults.”

A recently completed four-year NHMRC-funded Ngangk Yira project, Birthing on Noongar Boodjar, has already highlighted a shortage of high-quality, culturally secure maternity care in WA hospitals that was critical to improved maternity care and childbirth outcomes for Aboriginal mothers and their babies.
Other projects underway include the Baby Coming – You Ready program, that provides a mental health screening tool for postnatal depression to assist young parents during pregnancy and their babies first year. This is expected to bolster the social and emotional wellbeing of new parents and support improved birth and developmental outcomes for their babies.

Meanwhile, the Indigenous Young People’s Resilience and Wellbeing project is a long-term study of Aboriginal youth aged 15 to 18 to better understand factors affecting their resilience and wellbeing and to improve youth services and community programs to address these.

Moving forward, the Centre is also set to study parental mental health and its impact on children’s mental health through a population-based Linked Data Project that will study the type, scale and timing of mental health problems in young Aboriginal people and their families. Data will be used to address some critical gaps in support for mental health development in “the critical first 1001 days” of a child’s life.

Murdoch University anticipates this research will improve knowledge of the mental and physical health of Aboriginal children in Western Australia, pregnancy outcomes, child abuse and neglect, disability, contact with the juvenile justice system and education.

The Centre’s work to identify ways to make Aboriginal families healthier and more resilient is also supported by strong partnerships with academics and experts in NSW, Canada and the UK, along with the Telethons Kids’ Institute, the University of Notre Dame and international universities.