Aboriginal health gap widens

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 06 May 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:1157

The difference between the health of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians has widened, making Australia an anomaly in the developed world, according to a new report. Despite a national Aboriginal health strategy costing pounds sterling115m, a study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare indicates that Aborigines continue to suffer considerable health inequalities.

“During recent decades the indigenous populations of other Westernised nations have made large strides in the improvement of their health,” says the study. “In comparison Aboriginal populations have lagged considerably. Not only has the decline in infant and maternal mortality slowed down in the past few years, but a concomitant increase in young to middle aged adult mortality, particularly among males, has led to stagnancy in health trends.”

The authors warn that, because of poor data collection and inadequate identification of Aboriginal people, the state of indigenous health might be even worse than their report suggests. Their paper is the fourth in recent months to show that mortality, life expectancy, and infant and maternal mortality are all much worse among indigenous people.

At birth an Aboriginal boy has a life expectancy up to 18 years less than that of his non-Aboriginal counterpart, and rates of admission to hospital for males are up to 60% higher. Aboriginal mothers account for almost 30% of all maternal deaths but less than 3% of confinements, and Aborigines account for 73% of all infant deaths in the Northern Territory but only 38% of all births.

The authors say that Aborigines are also vulnerable to non-infectious diseases. “The growing impact of non-communicable diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease and diabetes, without much decline in infectious disease mortality is a phenomenon peculiar to Aboriginals,” they say.

The authors conclude that the need for effective ways of improving indigenous health is urgent.—CHRISTOPHER ZINN, Australian correspondent, Guardian

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