The exclusion of indigenous children from parts of a national health survey is a mistake that will leave health professionals with a large information gap about Aboriginal health, an expert has said.This year’s survey began in March and involves 50,000 randomly sampled adults and children across Australia.
For the first time, the survey includes a voluntary component in which blood and urine samples are collected to gauge chronic disease risk factors such as high cholesterol and levels of nutrients such as iron or B vitamins.
The survey, undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, costs the federal government $48 million and aims to take a snapshot of Australia’s health to be released next year. University of Queensland professor of medicine Wendy Hoy said young Aborigines have been excluded from the survey’s urine and blood tests, even though youths aged under 18 made up 40 per cent of the Aboriginal population. Non-indigenous children were able to participate in the voluntary medical tests.
Hoy stopped short of calling the exclusion racist, but said it was a form of “discrimination”.
“This is the best opportunity yet to build the evidence base for strategies aiming to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous health,” she told AAP.
“By current estimates about half of Australia’s indigenous people are under 22 years of age and exclusion of most of these people ... will leave a large information vacuum.”
As a result the medical community would be deprived of vital information that could improve health policies, she said.
“We deplore the appearance of the metabolic syndrome, diabetes and kidney disease in children but fail to seize the opportunity to assess their extent,” Hoy said.
“Alternatively, is it implied that indigenous parents are less able to make sound decisions on their child’s participation or that the minors are less likely to cooperate?”
The decision to exclude indigenous children from the medical tests was made by the federal government’s indigenous health advisory body.
Hoy said it was hard to justify exclusion of any Australian based on the recommendation of third-party bodies.
“There is no other population group in Australia to whom this applies,” she said.
Opposition spokesman on indigenous health Andrew Laming said it was appalling the survey was denying participation based on race.
“The decision by the indigenous advisory group appointed by the government to exclude the youngest 40 per cent of Aboriginal Australians suggests fear of what the findings may reveal,” he said.
He said it was “patronising and racist”.
A spokeswoman for Indigenous Health Minister Warren Snowdon said the advisory body said it was not “culturally appropriate” for indigenous kids to provide voluntary blood and urine samples. The panel was representative of all the major indigenous health organisations and was not a “token board”.
“This is what aboriginal people are telling us what to do,” she said. She could not say whether any other indigenous health surveys involved medical testing.
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