Page 1 The World Health Organisation (World Health Organisation, 2008) states that the indigenous peoples of Australia are one of the most disadvantaged indigenous groups in the developed world. The health of the Indigenous population of Australia is an increasingly pressing issue. Current research and statistics reveals great inequality in many areas of health care and health status between the Aboriginal people and the general population of Australia. Couzos and Murray (2008, p. 29) report that the Indigenous population has “the worst health status of any identifiable group in Australia, and the poorest access to health systems.” This paper will examine the underlying historical contexts and contributing factors that have lead to the current disparity between the health of the Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians. Furthermore, the high prevalence of chronic health issues such as diabetes will be analysed and community health initiatives that are needed or currently being enacted will be identified.
Many reasons for the current appalling state of health and wellbeing of the Australian Aboriginal people can be explained by examining their recent history to the devastating impacts of colonisation, genocidal policy, loss of land and years of oppression. These several hundred years of cultural destruction, dispossession and social and political upheaval have resulted in generations of trauma and grief (Burke, 2006, para. 4). As reported by Forsyth (2007, p. 35-36), government policies enacted towards the indigenous population in the early 20th Century were concerned primarily with protection and segregation, as the prevailing attitude of the time was that the Indigenous people were largely inferior and were unable to care for themselves. Forsyth continues to explain of the injustice created by the New South Wales parliament with the Aborigines Protection Act of 1909, in which “every aspect of their lives was governed, regulated and controlled” (Forsyth, 2007, p. 36). Furthermore the Indigenous people of this era were not able to imbibe alcohol, own property, vote or cohabit with non-Indigenous people, and the state of their health was largely ignored due to the belief that they were a dying race. (Couzos et.
Page 2 al. 2008, p. 3). Due to this essentially complete lack of health care, Forsyth describes the Aboriginal people of the era living on the outskirts of larger towns as suffering from high rates of blindness, infectious diseases, bone diseases and sexually transmitted infections (Forsyth, 2007, p. 36). The severity of these health issues was made worse by fear and distrust of the Aboriginal people towards hospitals and white people (Forsyth, 2007, p. 37). As the 20th Century progressed it became obvious that the Aboriginal population was not a soon to be extinct race as earlier thought, and new political policy calling for assimilation and integration reflected this change, though protectionist and segregationist policies remained influential or continued until the 1970s (Couzos et. al. 2008, p. 4). In the 1960s attitudes of Australian society began to became more concerned for the wellbeing Indigenous people, with increased social conciousness and awareness spreading throughout the Western World. As a result of increasing political activity and demonstration, many Aboriginals were forced off stations in 1966, causing a large movement of Indigenous people to more urban areas such as Redfern (Couzos et. al. 2008, p. 7). This sudden increase in numbers highlighted the need for proper health care and services, with the first Aboriginal health service established in 1971. Throughout the 1970s an increase in research and reporting of Aboriginal health resulted in many state and commonwealth reports all with the same conclusion, that the health status of Aboriginal communities was appalling and that there was great “need for increased priority, increased resourcing, better coordination, and increased...
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