Aboriginals in remote areas will feel the brunt of climate change

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Australian researchers have warned that the impact of climate change on human health will be particularly felt by Indigenous people living in remote areas of the country and they say resources are needed now to deal with the problem.

Decades of inadequate housing and public services, and culturally inappropriate medical services have placed such groups at a greater risk and the researchers say the vulnerability of such communities will be intensified by the social and economic disadvantage they already experience.

They say Indigenous people will feel the effects of climate change far more than non-Aboriginal Australians.

The scientists from the University of New South Wales predict that temperatures could rise by at least three degrees Celsius in the north by the year 2050 which will create major problems in remote communities who will struggle to cope with such temperatures as buildings and facilities are inadequate in protecting people from the heat.

In such communities cardiovascular and respiratory disease are common and potentially deadly bacteria are already rampant and any rise in temperatures will lead to an increase in communicable diseases and create ideal breeding grounds for disease carrying mosquitoes.

Under the warmer conditions the incidence of bacterial diarrhoea alone could rise by up to 18%.

The climate change warning coincides with calls for a national indigenous health worker college to be established.

Experts say Australia’s poor record on Aboriginal health has been hindered by poor co-ordination, and greater progress would be made if medical, nursing and other professionals could be brought together by setting up a national college.

Under a proposal suggested by Darwin psychiatrist Dr. Robert Parker a national college of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health would for the first time take charge of the credentialing, education and championing of Aboriginal health workers, who work in many communities in a variety of nursing and paramedical roles and could possibly include experienced workers who lack formal qualifications.

The proposed body would include all those working to improve the health of indigenous people and would set standards and ethics codes, establish training programs, defend members’ interests, conduct research and advise governments and policy institutes.

Dr. Parker says that while many organisations have some role in indigenous health, none seem to offer any mechanism for ensuring that health workers are delivering culturally appropriate services and the college could help to ensure that care provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a range of localities is of a consistently high standard.

Dr. Parker, is an associate professor of psychiatry at James Cook University in Darwin and he suggests that a national college of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health could contribute to the long-term strategy necessary to address the health disadvantages faced by indigenous Australians.

According to Dr. Parker there has been a lack of consistency in government policy - indigenous health leaders have given the proposal cautious approval.

Dr. Parker’s article and the research on climate change are published in the Medical Journal of Australia.


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