Indigenous populations globally are continually striving for better health and wellbeing due to experiencing significant health and social inequities. The social determinants of health are important contributors to health outcomes. Comprehensive primary health care that is governed and delivered by Indigenous people extends beyond the biomedical model of care to address the social determinants of health. Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) are known to provide culturally informed, holistic health services that directly and indirectly address the social determinants of health. The range and extent of their activities in addressing the social determinants of health, however, is not well documented.
The most recent ACCHO annual reports were retrieved online or by direct correspondence. For coding consistency, a dictionary informed by the World Health Organization’s Conceptual Framework for Action on the Social Determinants of Health was developed. A document and textual analysis of reports coded ACCHO activities and the determinants of health they addressed, including intermediary determinants, socio-economic position and/or socio-political context. Summary statistics were reported. Representative quotes illustrating the unique nature of ACCHO service provision in addressing the social determinants of health were used to contextualise the quantitative findings.
Sixty-seven annual reports were collected between 2017 and 2018. Programs were delivered to population groups across the life span. Fifty three percent of reports identified programs that included work at the socio-political level and all annual reports described working to improve socioeconomic position and intermediary determinants of health through their activities. Culture had a strong presence in program delivery and building social cohesion and social capital emerged as themes.
This study provides evidence of the considerable efforts of the ACCHO sector, as a primary health care provider, in addressing the social determinants of health and health inequity experienced by Indigenous communities. For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, ACCHOs not only have an essential role in addressing immediate healthcare needs but also invest in driving change in the more entrenched structural determinants of health. These are important actions that are likely to have an accumulative positive effect in closing the gap towards health equity.