BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
    You are in: Health  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
Medical notes
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
 Thursday, 26 December, 2002, 00:10 GMT
Fears for health of Aborigine children
Aborigine children
Many Aborigine children are not as healthy as these two

Doctors in Australia's rugged Northern Territory say the number of malnourished aboriginal children is rising sharply.

Figures released by the Royal Darwin Hospital show a 25% increase in those diagnosed with malnutrition and diarrhoea in the past three years.

Other countries have managed to turn around the situation for their indigenous peoples over the past 30 years but Australia¿s probably going backward

Paul Bauert
Dr Paul Bauert from the Australian Medical Association (AMA) said the majority of young aborigines show classic symptoms of under-nourishment.

"We see pus coming from ears - up to 70% of children in some communities.

"The World Health Organization recognises a public health crisis if you have pus coming from ears in greater than 4% of the population."

Social problems

Many aboriginal children in tropical northern Australia are very small for their age.

The reasons are thought to be social rather than the lack of health care in remote settlements.

Poor housing and hygiene, a lack of employment and education along with a reliance on convenience food conspire to disadvantage youngsters.

"It's an absolute disgrace," the AMA's Paul Bauert told the BBC.

"Other countries have managed to turn around the situation for their indigenous peoples over the past 30 years but Australia's probably going backwards."

Indigenous Australia has a proud culture but the health of its people is worse than any other group in the country.

Underachievement

We have so many children with hearing problems and they're being disruptive in the classrooms because they can't hear

Sandra Nelson
Sandra Nelson is a health worker at the Danila Dilba indigenous medical centre in Darwin.

She told BBC News Online that malnutrition often condemns young aborigines to a lifetime of underachievement at school and beyond.

"We have so many children with hearing problems and they are being disruptive in the classrooms because they can't hear.

"It distresses the child, the child stops going to school, they can't get a job, they go into poverty and it's just that big vicious cycle."

Poor nutrition can result in acute wasting and chronic stunting and is part of the reason why aborigines die - on average - 20 years younger than white Australians.

Disease

Professor David Brewster is the head of paediatrics at the Royal Darwin Hospital.

He said malnutrition can result in serious illnesses later in life.

"If you're malnourished as a child you are much more at risk from cardio-vascular and renal disease as well as diabetes in adulthood."

Reports suggest many aboriginal parents serve up a diet loaded with sugar, flour and soft drinks rather than wholemeal bread, fruit and vegetables, which are more expensive.

The Northern Territory government is sending 25 additional medical teams out to remote settlements in response to growing concerns about child nutrition.

Marion Scrymgour, a junior minister in the Labor administration and the first indigenous woman elected to the Northern Territory parliament, outlined to the BBC why high rates of alcohol and drug abuse as well as gambling needed to be tackled as part of the fight against malnutrition.

"A lot of the mothers get access to welfare payments. Most goes towards gambling and just a small percentage on food.

"If the father's got a severe substance abuse problem and the mother's got a gambling problem, the money just goes and the children miss out."

One indigenous community worker said childhood malnutrition had cast a "dark, ominous cloud" over her people that if left unchecked threatened the long-term future of her race.

See also:

12 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
13 Mar 02 | Health
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes