The Sax Institute is collaborating with Aboriginal communities on groundbreaking new research into healthy Indigenous ageing, thanks to $1.2 million in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

The study is the first of its kind to be driven by local communities, and will partner with five Aboriginal community-controlled health services from across NSW to explore local views on healthy ageing and how cancer outcomes can be improved for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Researchers from the Sax Institute and Cancer Institute NSW will consult directly with older Aboriginal people who have had cancer, or who are currently undergoing treatment, along with their families, to get a better understanding of how the current cancer care system is working for older Indigienous communities. The study will also consult with frontline workers at Aboriginal health services to map the available mix of services for Aboriginal patients and identify potential areas of improvement for cancer prevention and treatment.

Sandra Bailey, Senior Adviser, Aboriginal Health at the Sax Institute says that engaging Aboriginal communities will provide a clearer picture of local needs.

Currently, Aboriginal people have a significantly shorter life expectancy and poorer survival rates from cancer diagnosis than the rest of the population. Sandra Bailey, Senior Adviser, Aboriginal Health at the Sax Institute, says it’s time to turn this around, and believes the direct involvement of Aboriginal communities will make for more meaningful and effective research.

“Engaging the communities will help us get a clearer picture of local needs and how things can be improved,” she said. “Now is the time to let Aboriginal Australians lead the conversation on what it means to age well, and what kind of cancer treatment works best in urban and remote communities.”

The study builds on the long-term partnership between the Sax Institute and four Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS), which forms SEARCH – Australia’s largest long-term study of the health and wellbeing of urban Aboriginal children.

Dr Martin McNamara, Deputy CEO at the Sax Institute, says SEARCH’s strong approach to community engagement and use of data to improve Aboriginal health and wellbeing has set a framework for the new study. “This is a really important next phase for the Sax Institute’s work with Indigenous communities,” he said. “With the help of this recent funding, we can now begin exploring healthy ageing for Aboriginal Australians, while keeping our research firmly grounded in community collaboration.”

Professor David Currow, Chief Executive of Cancer Institute NSW, and the study’s chief investigator, says such a collaborative approach will give the study a meaningful advantage. “It’s exciting to have a team nationally who have a track record in reducing disparities and outcomes from First Nations peoples,” he said. “By using data held at a national level as well as at a state and territory level, there is the real opportunity this time to start to close the gap.”

The grant is part of the NHMRC’s larger $5.6 million investment into six nationwide projects, all focusing on improving the health of older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These include: Indigenous aged care; a holistic approach towards healthy ageing; a framework for healthy ageing in the Torres Strait; defining and predicting healthy ageing; and improving implementation of Health Assessments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Find out more about SEARCH here.