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International Report Highlights Health Challenges For Māori Children

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

An international report focusing on the health problems faced by indigenous children - including young Māori in New Zealand - has concluded that they are the result of social rather than biological causes.

"Māori children are more likely to experience adverse social determinants of health such as inadequate or crowded housing, poverty, poorer educational outcomes and lower living standards. Māori children also experience worse health outcomes and the data suggest that the provision of health services to Māori children could be improved," says Dr Sue Crengle of The University of Auckland, who contributed the New Zealand section of the report.

"The disparities in health and social outcomes experienced by Māori and other indigenous children are breaches of the rights and protections afforded them by the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Treaty of Waitangi. We must act to address these issues," she says.

The study, "Indigenous Children's Health Report: Health Assessment in Action" looks at the health of indigenous children in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, drawing parallels between the countries. It is one of the first reports of its kind looking at common issues affecting the health of indigenous children around the world.

The researchers found that in all four countries indigenous children experience infant mortality rates up to four times the national average as well as higher rates of sudden infant death syndrome, child injury, accidental death and suicide. They also experience disproportionate rates of ear infection, respiratory illness, dental problems, and exposure to environmental contaminants including tobacco.

"There is no medical reason why such genetically-diverse indigenous groups would suffer from similar health issues. But there are similar social issues in all four countries that impact health," says lead author Dr Janet Smylie from St Michael's Hospital in Canada.

The shared social issues identified in the report include colonisation as an underlying determinant of indigenous health; disparate numbers of indigenous children living below the poverty line and/or in overcrowded accommodation; and comparatively poor access to healthcare, economic, and social resources.

The report is based on a systematic search of public health data. It examines the health of indigenous children up to 12 years of age, focusing on First Nations, Inuit, and Mtis children in Canada, before going on to examine and draw parallels with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia, Māori children in New Zealand, and indigenous children in the United States. The work was funded by First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada.

The full report is available at www.stmichaelshospital.com/crich/indigenous_childrens_health_report.php.

Dr Crengle and other authors of the report are presenting their findings today at the 12th World Congress on Public Health in Istanbul, Turkey.

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