News Health of indigenous people

Carrying a heavy burden

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 21 August 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:414
  1. Melissa Sweet
  1. Sydney

    On qualifying, Aboriginal doctor Mark Wenitong was asked how he intended to solve his community's health problems

    Imagine for a moment what life is like for Mark Wenitong, a GP and administrator with the Wuchopperen Aboriginal Medical Service in Cairns, northern Australia.

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    Wenitong: wonders what his future will bring


    No matter how hard he works, his patients often die, often in what should have been the prime of their lives. He goes to their funerals because he is not only their doctor but also part of their community.

    “We do a very good job here at Wuchopperen, clinically, socially, and culturally, and we don't see good advances in our clients,” he says. “You see too many people dying of preventable disease at an early age, and you just don't seem to be able to do anything about it.”

    When friends, family, and colleagues die, cut down by heart disease in their 30s and 40s, Dr Wenitong grieves for them, and wonders what his own future might bring.

    At 46, he is uncomfortably aware that Aboriginal life expectancy is 20 years lower than that of other Australians, and that 45% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men will not celebrate their 45th birthday.

    The high burden of cardiovascular disease, the major cause of excess mortality, reflects poor health and general social disadvantage, as well as reduced access to health services compared with other Australians.

    Whether running a clinic …

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