New Heart Foundation data shows Indigenous Australians are dying at twice the rate of the rest of the community.
In some parts of Australia the rate is even higher, with women in the Northern territory faring the worst, hospitalised for heart conditions six times more than other Australians.
Rheumatic heart disease has proven to be a major cause of heart problems in some communities.
“The biggest issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and one that we should be ashamed of as a nation, is the fact that they suffer from rheumatic heart disease,” Heart Foundation NSW CEO Kerry Doyle said.
“It exists because of a completely preventable pre-condition and it comes about through things such as poor hygiene, overcrowding and those such things.”
“We’re one of the only first world countries whose indigenous people are suffering from this condition.”
The data also prompted questions about why non-Indigenous and Indigenous people living in the same regions, with the same level of access to services, are experiencing such different health outcomes.
Heart Foundation Aboriginal Engagement Manager Corey Turner said historical distrust of mainstream health services could prevent some indigenous people seeking help.
He cautioned Indigenous people not to become despondent about the situation and to realise that in some areas, health interventions are being rolled out resulting in some improvements.
“We’re finding that a lot of disadvantaged communities are still getting smashed, so it’s really important that we look at how we can better plan for those communities and help support them find their own solutions”, Mr Turner.
And that’s exactly what some communities are doing.
Lyrebirds aqua aerobics class meets weekly and while many friendships have been formed in this pool, it’s mainly about exercise and combating the high rates of heart disease in Indigenous communities.
Lyrebird Kay Bussell said the classes help spread the word about how best to prevent heart disease.
“What we’re doing when we come here every week, is just getting together and making sure each other is well and catching up with gossip through our black grapevine.”
A grapevine that can save lives.