Posted on May 23, 2007

Australian Doctors Blame Racism For Aborigines’ Plight

AFP, May 22, 2007

Australia’s Aborigines die more than 17 years earlier than the rest of the population because of “institutionalised racism” in the health system, the country’s top medical body said Tuesday.

The average lifespan of modern Aborigines is currently the same as that of non-indigenous Australians in the 1920s, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) said in a damning report on Aboriginal health.

AMA president Mukesh Haikerwal said the report exposed a shameful national tragedy and called for greater government commitment to Aboriginal health.

“It is the 21st century and we are still seeing health conditions and health outcomes from a bygone era,” Haikerwal said.

“The gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-indigenous Australians is a constant reminder of our failings as a community.

“It is a gap that reflects a lack of government commitment over decades to fix the problem.”

The report found that Aborigines lived for an average 62.1 years while the mean lifespan for the rest of the population was 79.7, a difference of 17.6 years.

It said Aborigines, who make up 470,000 of Australia’s 20 million population, had three times the rate of coronary heart disease than their compatriots and up to five times their mortality rates.

The report found that factors such as poor health education, the remote nature of many Aboriginal communities and cultural barriers played a part in the problem but laid much of the blame on institutionalised racism.

“(There is) a systematic, and often unconscious, discrimination by services that results in indigenous patients receiving lesser treatment,” Haikerwal said.

“There is a great divide between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-indigenous Australians in actually getting into the health system to take advantage of the care and treatment that is supposed to be there equally for all of us.”

The report found institutionalised racism ranged from indirect bias, such as clinical guidelines that prioritise patients who will benefit most from treatment, to outright discrimination, including cases where Aborigines have been moved down waiting lists simply because of their race.