INDIGENOUS people are more than twice as likely to end up in hospital as a result of heart disease in the New England North West.
The gap is worse than the state average, Heart Foundation data reveals.
A Wiradjuri woman and My GP Tamworth doctor, Casey Sullivan understands the impacts of heart disease on Indigenous communities more than most.
“Almost everyone we know has that story to tell about a relative who had a heart attack on the football field.” she said.
“These are people we think are young, healthy, Indigenous men but the indicators weren’t picked up.”
Screening for heart disease in non-Indigenous people usually starts around age 30, for Indigenous people in the New England it can happen at as young as 12.
Life-expectancy for both groups continue to rise, but it’s the gap between the two that’s failed to improve.
Non-Indigenous people can still expect to live 10 years longer than their Indigenous counterparts.
Genetics is a significant factor, with cholesterol and heart disease higher in Indigenous people Dr Sullivan said.
“There are other risk factors, with lack of access to affordable healthy foods, higher smoking rates, social marginalisation, educational employment and inequities,” she said.
“I’m an Indigenous doctor and I think when they see a young Indigenous doctor it encourages them.
“But mostly it’s about getting the community to start talking among themselves, I found when I started talking to a young lad here he told his mates to get checked.
“I think word of mouth is the most positive influence when it comes to the Indigenous community.
“There’s still a long way to go.”
Especially in rural areas barriers to accessing healthcare can be as simple as a lack of transport or the costs associated with treatment.
A fresh approach is needed Dr Sullivan said.
“We need genuine engagement with the cultural differences for them to actually understand why they need to focus on heart health,” she said.