Mike Steketee: Dodson fury on black health

19feb04

INDIGENOUS health has grown worse, not better, since the Howard Government's focus on practical reconciliation, according to Aboriginal leader Patrick Dodson.

"There are a lot of fine words talked of partnerships, agreements, strategies and frameworks, but nothing is hitting the ground," he said at the launch in Sydney yesterday of a campaign on indigenous health. "The people are as sick as I have seen them."

The gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians was 20 years and widening.

Mr Dodson, a former chairman of the Council for Reconciliation, said there were 56 potential dialysis patients in Kununurra but no dialysis unit, meaning people had to be flown to Perth or Broome for treatment. "No one else in Australia would put up with that nonsense."

The campaign is organised by Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation.

National co-ordinator David Cooper said the campaign aimed to tackle widespread public misconceptions such as that large amounts of money were poured into indigenous health but nothing ever improved.

In contrast to Australia, determined action by governments in New Zealand, the US and Canada had brought rapid improvements in indigenous health.

Health economist John Deeble had estimated an additional $300 million a year was needed for primary healthcare for early identification and intervention and for public health and preventative programs. This represented only 0.5 per cent of the total health budget.

Dr Cooper said the Government spent $100,000 a head on kidney dialysis for patients who on average lived for only another 100 days. Yet a few thousand dollars in preventative treatment earlier in the patient's life would make dialysis unnecessary.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone said last night the $258 million spent on indigenous health this financial year was double that in 1996. Improvements would take time but indigenous infant and perinatal death rates had fallen by a third over the past decade.

            The Australian

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