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What is health?

Health has been defined by the World Health Organization as ‘a state of complete physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. To reach a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, people must be able to identify and realise goals, to satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment.

Health for Indigenous people includes everything that is important in their lives, including land, environment, physical body, community relationships and law. Health is the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community and the concept is linked to the sense of being Indigenous. These aspects are included in the Indigenous definition that was initially developed more than 30 years ago by the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party:


‘Aboriginal health means not just the physical wellbeing of an individual but refers to the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community in which each individual is able to achieve their full potential as a human being thereby bringing about the total wellbeing of their community. It is a whole of life view and includes the cyclical concept of life-death-life.’

There are many factors that influence health and wellbeing, often referred to as the ‘determinants of health’. These determinants generally refer to environmental, social, economic, behavioural and biological factors.

These factors include:






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