Health standards among Australia's Aborigines are as poor as those that prevailed among the white population before the advent of penicillin nearly a century ago, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A WHO report found that Aborigines still suffered from leprosy, tuberculosis and rheumatic heart disease, all of which were eradicated decades ago in other developed nations. In some parts of New South Wales, the average life expectancy for Aboriginal men is 33.
The paper was presented to a meeting in Adelaide of the WHO's Commission on the Social Determinants of Indigenous Health, which is also investigating the situation in New Zealand, the US and Canada. It concluded that, on every indicator, the state of health of Australian Aborigines was far worse than that of indigenous populations in other developed nations.
Lisa Jackson Pulver, who co-authored the chapter on Australia and New Zealand, criticised the Australian government for failing to address the root causes of poor health. They included a long- standing refusal to recognise the injustices of the past, she said.
Dr Jackson Pulver, from the Indigenous Health Unit of the University of New South Wales, wrote: "It is acknowledged by the government that Aboriginal Australians have poorer health, educational, employment and social outcomes, however the solutions to address those issues have little to do with the underlying causes." These were "a combination of material deprivation and psycho-social stressors related to stress, alienation, discrimination and lack of control".
In New Zealand, there were still health inequalities between the Maori and white populations but the gaps were fewer and smaller than in Australia, and closing. "Unfortunately we can't say the same [in Australia]," Dr Jackson Pulver said. …