NHMRC is committed to improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This commitment covers all aspects of NHMRC's mandate: support for health and medical research, fostering health and medical research ethics, and fostering the development of consistent health standards.
NHMRC's commitment to improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is being implemented through a strategic approach based on priorities identified by Indigenous people themselves, and delivered within the context of a whole-of-government approach to Indigenous affairs.
NHMRC's activities have been guided by an extensive nation-wide consultative process conducted by the Research Agenda Working Group (RAWG) in partnership with the Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (OATSIH).
The RAWG process resulted in the development and adoption of the NHMRC Road Map: A strategic Framework for improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health through research (commonly referred to as the NHMRC Road Map) and the Final Report of Community Consultations on the NHMRC Road Map.
At its 144th Session in October 2002, NHMRC’s Council agreed to adopt Indigenous health research as a strategic priority and to implement the NHMRC Road Map. Council also made a commitment to allocate at least 5% of its future research budget to Indigenous health. The Minister for Health and Ageing endorsed this approach and specific objectives and performance measures were set out in the NHMRC Strategic Plan 2003 – 2006.
NHMRC introduced a number of structural changes to support the implementation of the strategic plan. These included appointing Indigenous people to the Council and NHMRC Principal and NHMRC Working Committees, and establishing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Forum and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research Working Committee. In 2007 these committees were restructured to form a single Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Research Advisory Committee (ATSIHRAC) to provide high level advice on Indigenous health and research activities to NHMRC's Chief Executive Officer.
NHMRC is also collaborating with its partner agencies in New Zealand and Canada to advance Indigenous health research internationally. The Tripartite Agreement, signed in June 2012, is a five year undertaking involving the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) and NHMRC. It is the second of such agreements, the first being signed in April 2002.
In entering into the Agreement, the partner agencies recognised the disparities in health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in their respective countries and Indigenous peoples' desire for research to be undertaken on terms acceptable to them.
Tripartite Agreement - letter of Intent
Launch of NHMRC Road Map II - continuing commitment to Indigenous health research priorities
NHMRC launched Road Map II: A strategic framework for improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through research, in June 2010.
- Road Map II: A strategic framework for improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through research
Review of the NHMRC Road Map
NHMRC reviewed The NHMRC Road Map: A Strategic Framework for Improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Through Research throughout 2008. This work was guided by NHMRC's key advisory committee on Indigenous health issues, ATSIHRAC. Workshops were held in Sydney, Melbourne, Alice Springs, Perth and Townsville, and written submissions were received through a targeted consultation process. Staff of the NHMRC also provided a detailed analysis of research funded since the Road Map was developed. Road Map II was launched in June 2010.
There has been a steady increase in the proportion of funds allocated to Indigenous health since Council decided to aim for an allocation of at least 5% of its research budget to this area. Consequently, NHMRC expenditure on Indigenous health research in the calendar year 2007 increased to more than $23 million, and expenditure by the end of 2008 is expected to be $30.5 million, representing 5.1% of all NHMRC research funding expenditure for the year.
NHMRC research funding for Indigenous health
Expenditure on Indigenous|
health ($ millions)
% of total|
More detailed information on funded grants in Indigenous health is available from the NHMRC grant dataset.
NHMRC funds Indigenous health research across all its funding schemes (funding programs). In addition, it has established specific funding schemes to support research in priority areas and to build capacity in Indigenous health.
These funding schemes have a significant Indigenous health component:
- Centres of Clinical Research Excellence (CCRE) in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health
- A Healthy Start to Life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children Strategic Awards
- Short Term Exchange Funding Scheme
- Training Scholarships for Indigenous Health Research
- Training Fellowship for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research
- International Collaborative Indigenous Health Research Partnership (ICIHRP)
NHMRC’s commitment to increase the quantum of funds allocated to Indigenous health research is matched by a commitment to ensuring that the research it funds is not only of the highest scientific merit, but that it is beneficial and acceptable to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
For all applications for Project Grants, Postgraduate Scholarships, Training Awards, and Career Development Awards, NHMRC will establish specific Indigenous Grant Review Panels (IGRP) to review the high volume of applications addressing Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health. These IGRPs will have strong membership of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders, and will also include non-Indigenous researchers with a successful track record in ethical Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health research.
For schemes that do not receive a sufficient number of applications to constitute an IGRP the assessment of Indigenous health applications will be performed by an Indigenous health external assessor and/or a GRP member.
The review of the Criteria for Health and Medical Research of Indigenous Australians (the Criteria) will be integrated into the peer review process. That is, in scoring applications against the relevant scheme’s selection criteria, IGRP members and/or assessors will use their judgement to reflect the relative strength of the application in terms of how well it addresses and meets the Criteria.
This move to an integrated strategy for schemes that receive a larger number of applications dramatically increases the input from Indigenous researchers into NHMRC decision making processes.
Criteria for Health and Medical Research of Indigenous Australians (the Criteria)
All applications addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health must address the Criteria.
- Criteria for Health and Medical Research of Indigenous Australians (PDF, 20KB)
- Criteria for Health and Medical Research of Indigenous Australians (RTF, 13KB)
In implementing its mandate to foster consideration of ethical issues relating to health, NHMRC has undertaken specific activities to address concerns articulated by Indigenous peoples in relation to the ethics of health research.
In 1991, the NHMRC developed the Interim Guidelines on Ethical Matters in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research. These were reviewed and in 2003 replaced by Values and Ethics: Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research. In 2005, NHMRC published Keeping research on track: a guide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples about health research ethics.
Values and Ethics and Keeping research on track have been published as a resource package and are available in hardcopy from National Mailing and Marketing, PO Box 7077, Canberra BC ACT 2610. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
NHMRC develops or endorses guidelines and provides health advice to the Australian people and Government. It has implemented a number of initiatives that address health priority areas for Indigenous communities.
Strengthening Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples – A guide for health professionals was endorsed by Council in September 2005.
Australian Drinking Water Guidelines: Community Water Planner - A tool for small communities to develop drinking water management plans has been developed to support the implementation of the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines' management approach in small communities. It does this by assisting local drinking water managers to develop risk management plans tailored to their community.
NHMRC is working with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health to develop a best practice guide for health care providers and data custodians. The project aims to foster the inclusion of Indigenous status in health data collections, and will address the issue of consistency in eliciting information on Indigenous status. More information on this initiative will be posted on this website as it becomes available.
The following websites contain information which may be of interest:
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
- Australian Indigenous Doctors' Association (AIDA)
- Australian Indigenous Healthinfonet
- Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)
- Australian Medical Association (AMA)
- Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
- Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health (CRC for Aboriginal Health)
- Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses (CATSIN)
- Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA)
- Health Research Council of New Zealand (NZ HRC)
- The Medical Journal of Australia (MJA)