The Guardian 2 March, 2005

Palm Island Indigenous health crisis

Alf Wilson*

Australian Medical Association (AMA) northern representative Dr William Frischman has identified Palm Island as one Aboriginal community which needs urgent funds to improve the health of its residents.

"It is absolutely dreadful. Health in many Aboriginal communities is the same as it was for whites back in the 1920s. Men and women are dying at an average age of 20 years younger than white people", Dr Frischman said.

The Koori Mail visited Dr Frischman at his Townsville premises on January 30 and he said the AMA had identified Palm Island as one of the most needy Aboriginal communities in the country.

"Health is a major problem for Aboriginal communities right across Australia but some up this way are more urbanised and Palm Island is not so", he said.

Dr Frischman described Palm Island as "third world-like" and in need of funding to improve facilities.

"Improvement is needed in primary facilities such as having running water and then we also need to train more Aboriginal health workers and doctors", he said.

"It is shocking… we live in a rich country like Australia and this is happening in these communities".

Dr Frischman said Australia had the best health facilities in the world but many Indigenous people did not have access to them.

He supported the call by AMA president Dr Bill Glasson for $400 million to be injected into Aboriginal health in the Federal government's May Budget.

"Palm Island should be amongst those communities which need some more funding for health", he said.

Dr Frischman said Aboriginal children suffered diseases such as gastric, pneumonia, and iron deficiency.

"Adults suffer kidney disease, heart problems, diabetes and effects of alcohol. Aborigines have the highest rate of rheumatic fever in the world that affects the heart", he said.

Dr Frischman said many of the health problems suffered by Aborigines resulted from living in unhealthy and often crowded conditions.

"Aboriginal people suffer from third-world diseases which have not existed in white people for 50 years", he said.

Palm Island is 90 kilometers from Townsville and has a population of about 3000.

There is a hospital there with excellent facilities, however its resources are often not enough to cope with the amount of disease.

Another concern is that many residents do not seek medical treatment.

Dr Glasson said Aborigines did not have the same health standards of other Indigenous populations around the globe, which included the American Indians and New Zealand Maoris.

The AMA has urged politicians to visit many Aboriginal communities to check out the problem themselves.

*Koori Mail 23-02-2005

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