When the Australian Governor General, Sir William Deane, referred in a speech in 1996 to the “appalling problems relating to Aboriginal health” he was not exaggerating. The Australia Bureau of Statistics report on The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (McLennan & Madden, 1997) outlines the following statistics. The life expectancy for Aboriginal Australians is 15 to 20 years lower than for non-Aboriginal Australians, and is lower than for most countries of the world with the exception of central Africa and India. Aboriginal babies are two to three times more likely to be of lower birth weight and two to four times more likely to die at birth than non-Aboriginal babies. Hospitalisation rates are two to three times higher for Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal Australians. Death rates from infectious diseases are 15 times higher among Aboriginal Australians than non-Aboriginal Australians. Rates for heart disease, diabetes, injury and respiratory diseases are also all higher among Aboriginals – and so the list goes on. It is fair to say that Aboriginal people have higher rates for almost every type of illness for which statistics are currently recorded.
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