Hunter economist analysing Cape York health projects

May 7 2013

Andrew Searles

Andrew Searles is doing an economic evaluation of Indigenous health programs in Cape York.

HMRI research economist Andrew Searles* will be visiting remote Aboriginal communities in Cape York over the next four weeks, helping to evaluate the costs and benefits of health and wellbeing projects currently operating in the region.

With health-adjusted life expectancy figures being around 18 years below that of Queensland’s overall rate, Associate Professor Searles is also investigating economic frameworks to identify indigenous health priorities.

It is part of a Visiting Scholar fellowship that commenced yesterday with the Cairns Institute at James Cook University (JCU).

“Incident rates for cardiovascular, diabetes and respiratory illnesses are a major concern among the communities and I also have meetings scheduled with the Gurriny Yealamucka Health Services and Royal Flying Doctors Service regarding the delivery of a mental illness and wellbeing intervention known as the Family Wellbeing Program,” Associate Professor Searles said.

“We are introducing wellbeing measures into the economic evaluation because they incorporate concepts such as control and empowerment which are important to Indigenous people. Wellbeing has also been associated with the decisions people make about diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption and smoking, which potentially exacerbate the high disease burden.”

The work is an extension of pilot projects HMRI and the Hunter Valley Research Foundation have done in collaboration with James Cook University, Queensland Health and Cape York Hospital and Service District, using economic modelling to evaluate the efficacy of existing programs.

“There was some criticism in the media last year about the lack of program evaluation. For all the money that is being spent, economic evaluations are needed to determine whether programs work and whether they represent value for money,” Associate Professor Searles added.

Supporting research work done by HMRI’s Mothers and Babies group with NSW indigenous communities, the North Queensland research will also look at improving long-term health outlooks by engaging Aboriginal mothers during the critical stages of their pregnancy and in early motherhood.

“That isn’t something we can solve in a month but will factor into the long-term framework,” he said.

* Associate Professor Andrew Searles works with the Hunter Medical Research Institute and Hunter Valley Research Foundation. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.