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BMJ. Aug 23, 2003; 327(7412): 413.
PMCID: PMC188491
Health of Indigenous People

UN policy fails to tackle health needs of indigenous people

Indigenous people worldwide are unable to access routine health care and are dying prematurely, despite efforts by the United Nations in the past decade to raise awareness.awareness.

Figure 1

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San bushmen making fire in Namibia

Credit: PAUL WEINBERG/PANOS

This is a finding of a report published jointly by Health Unlimited (a British non-governmental organisation helping poor people achieve better health) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

In 1995 the United Nations launched the international decade of the world's indigenous people, aimed at increasing international cooperation to tackle human rights, environmental, educational, and health problems these people face.

But the report, for which the researchers collected the health views and concerns of indigenous people from Namibia, Guatemala, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia, says that financial, geographic, and cultural barriers are still limiting access to basic Western health care and that Western medicines are deemed too expensive.

A 19 year old mother from Laos describes her experience: “My husband went to the district hospital for a consultation and treatment for high blood sugar, but only once because we couldn't afford 40 000 kip (£3.50; $5.50; €5) for a packet of tablets.”

Where services are available, indigenous people are reluctant to use them because staff can be insensitive, discriminatory, and unfriendly, it says. “We didn't think about taking my son to a doctor because the truth is the health centre doesn't treat people well. They mistreat people,” said a Guatemalan elder.

Notes

Utz' Wach'il: Health and Well Being Among Indigenous Peoples is at www.healthunlimited.org/aboutus/indigenous%20peoples.htm


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