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Our National Shame

Open letter urges ” let’s fix Indigenous health within 25 years.

An open letter published in The Australian newspaper in December last year has called for an end to the national scandal in Indigenous health.

Australia’s leading health, human rights, aid and development organisations have urged the Prime Minister John Howard, State Premiers, Territory Chief Ministers, parliamentarians and the general public to commit to a plan to achieve health equality for Indigenous peoples within 25 years.

“It’s a national scandal that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live 17 years less than other Australians and that their babies die at almost three times the rate of non-Indigenous children,” says Tom Calma, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Social Justice Commissioner, who is a spokesperson for the group.

“Addressing the status of Indigenous health is one of the greatest challenges to this nation’s sense of decency and fairness.”

The group is so concerned about the deepening health crisis in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that they took the unusual step of placing an advertisement in the nation’s national newspaper. This has enabled the group to speak with one unified voice, as well as send a powerful message to all Australians that Indigenous Australians continue to needlessly suffer and die early ” not from a lack of solutions or government commitments but from a lack of political will and action.

“It’s not acceptable for governments to continually state the situation is tragic and ought to be treated with urgency and then fail to put in place targets, funding and timeframes to address the issue,” Tom says.

Addressing inequality in health status can be overcome. But it will require long-term action and a focused commitment. All around Australia, Indigenous communities and organisations are taking action to improve the health of their people. Their successes show that with a concerted national effort we can end Australia’s Indigenous health crisis within a generation.

“Rapid improvements can be achieved in the health of Indigenous people by comprehensive, targeted and well resourced government action as well as through partnerships with Indigenous peoples,” Tom says.

The group recommends that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality within 25 years will require, at a minimum:

  • Measures to ensure equal access for Indigenous peoples to primary health care and health infrastructure;
  • Increased support for developing the Indigenous health workforce
  • A commitment to support and nurture Indigenous community controlled health services;
  • A focus on improving the accessibility of mainstream health services for Indigenous peoples;
  • An urgent focus on early childhood development, maternal health, chronic illness and diseases;
  • Supporting the building blocks of good health, such as awareness and availability of nutrition, physical activity, fresh food, healthy lifestyles, adequate housing and the other social determinants of health.

“Addressing Australia’s Indigenous health crisis should be a commitment shared by all sides of politics and all sections of Australian society,” says Tom.

“Make no mistake, the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is a national shame and we stand diminished as a nation as well as individuals by ignoring the
plight of our fellow Australians.”

The list of agencies signed up to the campaign include the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the Congress of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Nurses, the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, Amnesty International, the Australian Red Cross, Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation, the Fred Hollows Foundation, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, UNICEF and countless others.


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