Gap between death rates for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal infants widening

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The risk of death for an Aboriginal infant in Western Australia is three times higher than for a non-Aboriginal infant, according to an article in this week's issue of The Lancet. The study highlights the increasing disparities between these groups, especially in remote communities. The authors are calling for immediate action to improve access to health care and living conditions for Aboriginal people.

Jane Freemantle (University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia) and colleagues analysed mortality data for the total population of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal infants born in Western Australia between 1980 and 2001. They found that overall infant mortality fell in both populations, but less so in the Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal infants. The main causes of death in Aboriginal infants were Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and infection; and for non-Aboriginal infants, birth defects and premature births. Disparities increased between the two groups for all major causes of death. Aboriginal infants had many more potentially preventable deaths. Effective maternal and infant antenatal and postnatal services and education programmes need to be developed, state the researchers.

"Our findings draw attention to the increasing disparities in death rates between Aboriginal infants and their non-Aboriginal peers, which provide an important indicator of the overall health and well-being of Aboriginal communities and the long-term effect that racism, discrimination, and dispossession have had on Aboriginal people," states Dr Freemantle. She adds that in partnership with Aboriginal communities "implementation and assessment of policies to reduce the continuing social and economic disadvantage faced by Aboriginal families is vital."

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Contact: Dr. Jane Freemantle, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Division of Population Health, PO Box 855, WEST PERTH, Western Australia 6872, janef@ichr.uwa.edu.au via Elizabeth Chester T) +61 409988530 or Tammy Gibbs T) +61 8 9489 7963


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