Aboriginal males unlikely to live beyond mid-40s, says report

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The Independent Online

After Fred Hollows, the distinguished ophthalmologist, visited the Northern Territory in 1968 to investigate Aboriginal health, he wrote: "It was like something out of the medical history books - eye diseases of a kind and degree that hadn't been seen in Western society for generations. The neglect this implied, the suffering and wasted quality of human life, were appalling." The Hollows Foundation, which he founded, said yesterday that little had changed. The foundation, which works in remote Aboriginal communities, said that indigenous health and life expectancy in Australia - one of the world's wealthiest nations - are worse than in countries such as Sudan, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Eritrea.

After Fred Hollows, the distinguished ophthalmologist, visited the Northern Territory in 1968 to investigate Aboriginal health, he wrote: "It was like something out of the medical history books - eye diseases of a kind and degree that hadn't been seen in Western society for generations. The neglect this implied, the suffering and wasted quality of human life, were appalling." The Hollows Foundation, which he founded, said yesterday that little had changed. The foundation, which works in remote Aboriginal communities, said that indigenous health and life expectancy in Australia - one of the world's wealthiest nations - are worse than in countries such as Sudan, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Eritrea.

Olga Havnen, the foundation's indigenous programmes manager, said health standards had declined in some areas, despite years of national prosperity, with male life expectancy down to the mid-40s. She said: "It's an absolutely shocking indictment of this country. If any other group in Australia was suffering from the same problems, a national emergency would be declared.

"When you look at international comparisons, you wonder what the hell is going on. People simply don't care."

The life expectancy of indigenous people is 20 years less than that of other Australians. Just 24 per cent of Aboriginal men and 35 per cent of women live until 65, compared with 43 per cent of Nigerians, 57 per cent of Nepalese and 60 per cent of Bangladeshis.

And the infant mortality rate in Aboriginal families is twice as high as among white Australians.

Malnutrition rates are similar to those in the Third World, and trachoma, the eye disease - eradicated in other developed countries - is rampant. Infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and scabies, virtually unknown in the developed world, plague Aboriginal communities.

The foundation, calling for a national summit to highlight the problems, said the health gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people in New Zealand, Canada and the US has narrowed in the past 30 years, while in Australia it has widened.

Poor nutrition, inadequate housing and lack of access to primary health care are blamed for the situation, together with the social exclusion of Aboriginals. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare believes that an additional $300m (£130m) a year - less than 1 per cent of the national health budget - needs to be spent on health care for indigenous people.

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