Primary Health Care

The National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health 2003-2013 recognises the internationally accepted importance of comprehensive primary health care meeting the health needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. [Australian Health Ministers’ Conference 2003]

Primary health care is defined as the first level of contact of individuals, families and the community with the health care system.  In Aboriginal communities this is usually through an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS).

The definition of ‘primary health care’ has generated much discussion and disagreement over the years.  For example, the World Health Organisation’s 1978 Declaration of Alma Ata advanced a comprehensive view that saw primary health care’s role not just in terms of treatment of illness, but also as including health promotion and illness prevention, promotion of community and individual self-reliance and participation, and intersectoral action to address what would now be called the social determinants of health.  It identifies those determinants as poverty, housing, education, and food supply which underlie the health of populations.

In a similar vein, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) defines primary health care as including not only the provision of medical care, but also including the provision of services such as counselling, preventative medicine, health education and promotion, rehabilitative services, antenatal and postnatal care, maternal and child care programs.

The Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute also uses a broad definition of primary health care. “ Socially appropriate, universally accessible, scientifically sound first level care provided by a suitably trained workforce supported by an integrated referral system and in a way that gives priority to those most in need, maximises community and individual self-reliance and participation and involves collaboration with other sectors.”

Today in Australia there has developed a broad consensus that primary health care is to be defined comprehensively rather than narrowly, especially when it comes to improving the health of disadvantaged populations such as that of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

It is also generally accepted that comprehensive primary health care is a major and essential contribution to closing the health gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In line with this view, QAIHC has developed a Comprehensive Primary Health Care Model which builds on work originally undertaken by the Apunipima Cape York Health Council.

More information about this model and its importance in achieving improved outcomes in Indigenous Health can be found in the publication – “A Blueprint for Aboriginal and Islander Health Reform in Queensland” – located under the Resources tab on this QAIHC website.

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