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What limits Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men from getting health help

Dr Kootsy Canuto’s PhD research study into barriers faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander male health in accessing primary health care services (PHCSs) has highlighted the need for Indigenous men to have more input into making services male-friendly.

Published in December 2018, the study sought to investigate the motivators and enablers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men using existing services, what prevented them from doing so and what could be improved.

Reporting in the International Journal for Equity in Health, researchers Dr Kootsy Canuto, Gary Wittert, Stephen Harfield and Professor Alex Brown, interviewed 19 men from South Australia and far north Queensland.

The men cited feelings of shame, invincibility, having a lack of knowledge, long waiting times, and culturally inappropriate staff and services as reasons to stay away from health care providers.

“You think you’re 10-foot-tall and made of bricks and nothing is going to go wrong,” one man reported.

“Sometimes you feel shame to go in and describe your medical condition…most men may be shy to talk about their medical issue,” said another.

Motivation for attending PHCSs included going when feeling sick/unwell, attending a particular service (dental or sexual health), visiting for check-ups and preventative health and family encouragement.

Contrary to common belief, the study showed that most of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who participated in the study did want to engage with PHCSs for preventative health and that PHCSs should be trying harder to better understand the barriers, enablers and motivators, so that more of their services could be utilised. 

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men (like most non-Indigenous Australian men) want to lead long and healthy lives so we can be present and involved with our families and society,” Dr Kootsy said.

“All we are asking is for primary health care services (PHCSs) to be receptive to what we have to say (in a local context) about what we want and need to achieve our health and wellbeing goals. 

“We also need PHCSs to be responsive, to work with us to develop and implement strategies to improve services.

“This would be a good start towards increasing PHCS utilisation and improving our health and wellbeing. If, however, PHCSs are not resourced appropriately to achieve this, Closing the Gap will remain nothing more than a catchy slogan.​​”

Other notable findings in the study

  • 63% of participants reported that their mothers took them to the doctor in childhood while 16% said their fathers sometimes took them
  • As a child all participants attended non-Indigenous health care clinics or private general practices
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men have the highest rates of morbidity and mortality in Australia yet are poor utilisers of PHCSs 
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are interested in their health, and when given the opportunity, are willing to share their ideas and suggestions as to how service utilisation could be improved and, 
  • There is a need for future studies about the effectiveness of gender specific PHCSs, how childhood experiences effect utilisation as adults, and the importance of better understanding the difference between those who are motivated to attend PHCSs for preventative health and those who are not.

Dr Kootsy Canuto’s PhD research was supported by a Fellowship from the National Heart Foundation of Australia.


Download Dr Canuto's full report Utilisation of Primary Health Care Services By Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Men (pdf file)

Read: Close the Gap: 3 quick facts about Indigenous male life expectancy

Read: Aboriginal men’s group helps close health gap

Read the Closing The Gap Report 2019 (PDF)

Find out more about Closing The Gap Day (Website) 

Read: Strong Dads Strong Futures study engages Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island men in parenting research




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