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The Australian National University

The burden of kidney disease among Indigenous Australians: The role of research in moving from aggregate statistics to effective intervention

Presented by

Professor Alan Cass


The Jon Altman Room, COP2145, 2nd Floor Copland Building, Kingsley Place, The Australian National University


Monday, 26 June 2017

In November 2000, at the Art Gallery of NSW, Sotheby's auctioned four collaborative paintings created by senior Pintupi Luritja men and women from the communities of Kintore, Mt Liebig and Kiwirrkurra. Their intent was to raise funds to set up a dialysis service in Kintore. What prompted these Aboriginal communities of the Western Desert to give such a high priority to dialysis treatment for kidney disease?

Indigenous Australians experience a burden of kidney disease six to eight times heavier than non-Indigenous Australians. Considering that patterns of health and wellbeing are shaped by multiple dimensions of inequality, how can we move from national aggregate statistics to explore disease burden according to gender, age, socioeconomic status, and place of residence? Throughout life, from the intra-uterine environment, to childhood and as we grow and age, where are the key points at which evidence suggests intervention will make a difference? What should we measure and monitor to help target efforts in disease prevention and management?

People suggest it is time to shift our focus from doing Aboriginal health research to working to improve health outcomes. However, rigorous research exploring patterns of health and disease; teasing out causative factors for the development and progression of disease; exploring access to and utilisation of health services; and designing, implementing and evaluating new treatments and innovative models of care is of fundamental importance. Aboriginal people - patients and families, health service and communities - must be core partners in the design, conduct, interpretation, feedback and translation of findings of research.  Without such research, we will fail to improve health and fail to support the wishes so clearly expressed by the Pintupi Luritja.


Professor Alan Cass (BA MBBS FRACP PhD FAHMS) is the Director of Menzies School of Health Research. Having trained as a nephrologist, Prof Cass has pursued a research career with a focus on prevention and management of chronic disease and Indigenous health. He has undertaken research to improve access to services and provision of care to patients from remote areas, with low health literacy, who speak a different language and have different understandings of health and illness. Professor Cass has published more than 230 peer-reviewed papers and seminal reports for governments and NGOs. He is immediate past-President of the ANZ Society of Nephrology; Board Member for Top End Health and Hospital Services, the NT Heart Foundation, Australian Clinical Trials Alliance and Australian Spinal Cord Injury Network.




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