Intended for healthcare professionals


The health of indigenous peoples

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 08 March 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:510

Depends on genetics, politics, and socioeconomic factors

  1. Mason H Durie, assistant vice chancellor (
  1. Massey University, Private Bag 11-222, Palmerston North, New Zealand

    When launching the international decade for the world's indigenous peoples in 1994, the president of the United Nations General Assembly warned of the dire circumstances facing indigenous peoples: “Their social structures and lifestyles have suffered the repercussions of modern development.”1 Although there is no single definition of indigenous peoples, an ancient relationship with a defined territory and ethnic distinctiveness are two distinguishing features. There are some 5000 indigenous groups with a total population of about 200 million, or around 4% of the global population.2

    The 1999 Declaration on the Health and Survival of Indigenous Peoples by the World Health Organization proposed a definition of indigenous health: “Indigenous peoples' concept of health and survival is both a collective and an individual inter-generational continuum encompassing a holistic perspective incorporating four distinct shared dimensions of life. These dimensions are the spiritual, the intellectual, physical, and emotional. Linking these four fundamental dimensions, health and survival manifests itself on multiple levels where the past, present, and future co-exist simultaneously.”3

    Although the standards of health of indigenous peoples show …

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