Monday, December 11, 2006

Government to blame for severity of Indigenous health crisis

DECEMBER 11, 2006: More than 30 of Australia's key medical and social welfare groups say Indigenous Australians are dying because of a lack of political will and action. An open letter published on Monday called for state and territory governments to work with the commonwealth to increase the life expectancy of indigenous Australians. Signed by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Australian Red Cross and Oxfam among others, the letter calls on both tiers of government to deliver life expectancy equality within 25 years.

"We call on all Australian governments to commit to a plan to achieve health equality for indigenous peoples within 25 years," the letter says. The organisations say Indigenous Australians are dying, not because of a lack of solutions but because of a lack of political will and action.

Federal health minister Tony Abbott said they are naive...

The 37 groups paid nearly $40,000 to publish an open letter in The Australian newspaper. The letter is to the federal, state and territory governments, asking them to put more money into Indigenous health immediately.

Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner, Tom Calma, says an extra $300 million per year would stop Indigenous people dying an average of 17 years earlier than other Australians.

Mr Calma says governments need to commit to raising Indigenous life expectancy to normal levels within 25 years. "Government is not really listening to what Aboriginal people and the medical profession are saying," he said."We need to be able to get the Government to start to focus a lot more to setting some fairly realistic and achievable targets and benchmarks and time frames."

The Red Cross, Amnesty International and Ian Thorpe's Fountain for Youth have signed the document. The groups say it is inconceivable that a country as wealthy as Australia cannot solve a health crisis affecting less than 3 per cent of the population.

John Paterson from the Northern Territory's peak aboriginal medical organisation, AMSANT, says there is no mystery about what is needed. "Give us the money tomorrow," he said. "We're in the position to go and recruit GPs and other clinicians that Indigenous communities are currently screaming out for."

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott is unwilling to make any commitments. He says the plan is far too idealistic. Mr Abbott says said he hopes no one thinks that Indigenous health outcomes are a function of governmental neglect. He said the Government is "trying."

"If it was as easy as all that to improve indigenous health it would have been done a long time ago," Abbott told the corporate media. "But certainly it doesn't hurt to have a whole lot of prominent people reminding us of the urgency of this task." Mr Abbott said life expectancy was not lower amongst indigenous people purely because of their race.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has also come out in support of the 37 groups. AMA vice-president Dr Choong-Siew Yong says the blame-shifting needs to end. "There needs to be a redesign of how health services are rolled out for Indigenous people," he said. The group wants governments to commit to bringing Indigenous life expectancy in line with the rest of the population within 25 years.

In November the AMA said Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were facing a major health crisis, Dr Haikerwal said. "Our international reputation and our national conscience demand a concerted coordinated effort to bring the health of indigenous Australians into the 21st century,” he said.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that for Indigenous people born in recent years: Indigenous males could be expected to live to 59.4 years, more than 17 years less than the 76.6 years expected for all males; and Indigenous females could be expected to live to 64.8 years, more than 17 years less than the expectation of 82.0 years for all females.

Nine MSN
Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet

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