The problem

Despite our nation’s commitment to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal Peoples, a significant life expectancy gap remains, with heart disease the leading cause of death in Aboriginal women.

Devastating families and communities nation-wide, heart disease is killing Aboriginal women 20 years younger than other Australian women, highlighting a critical downfall in our healthcare system. Our research is setting out to understand why.

The solution

UniSA PhD candidate Katharine McBride (a non-Aboriginal woman) is working with Aboriginal women and health providers, such as Watto Purrunna Aboriginal Primary Health Care Service, to encourage governments to approach health from an Aboriginal perspective.

As part of her PhD project, Katharine explored the perspectives of 28 Aboriginal women from different communities to establish cardiovascular protective and risk factors, with the work overseen by an Aboriginal Women’s Advisory Group.

“We know the healthcare system is designed around the Western understanding of physical disease, not Aboriginal understanding of cultural, social and emotional wellbeing, which is focused on identity, strength and connectedness,” Katharine says.

An aboriginal woman with a hand print on her face
Photo by Steve Evans

“Doing research the ‘Aboriginal way’ depends on strong and ongoing relationships following protocols set down by community. This research project was developed by community, with Aboriginal women leading the process.

“Through yarning circles, women identified attributes and drivers which either kept their hearts strong or put them at risk.

“Women who had those factors described as keeping the heart strong were less likely to develop heart disease.”

Katharine partnered with Watto Purrunna Aboriginal Primary Health Care Service to understand the profile of protective and risk factors in the community, and consider how services could meet their needs.

Kurt Towers from Watto Purrunna Aboriginal Primary Health Care Service says being involved in the research has allowed the organisation to think about how they can provide services that meet the needs and expectations of the community they care for.   

“Knowing that the research was led by Aboriginal women, and being a partner in the design and process, has taught us we can do so much better. As an Aboriginal man, it has also given me confidence that the research is meeting community priorities and delivering benefits on the ground for Aboriginal women.”

Kurt Towers
Watto Purrunna Aboriginal Primary Health Care Service

Katharine continues to work with a research team, which includes Aboriginal women with lived and professional experience of heart disease, to advance a new model of health delivery and care. This will be co-designed with community to meet the needs of women around their cultural, social and physical health and wellbeing.

Partners involved

Northern Adelaide Local Health Network

Watto Purunna Tree of Life

Project outcomes

Collaborated with Aboriginal women who led the research project design and process

Identified key attributes and drivers of good and bad heart health

Encouraged governments to approach healthcare from an Aboriginal perspective

Related services

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