A Nation Bigger than US Suffering from High Rates of Diabetes, Drug and Alcohol Abuse


Human Wrongs Watch

There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in 90 countries around the world, practicing unique traditions, they retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live.*

Opening of the fourteenth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (20 April 2015). UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Opening of the fourteenth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (20 April 2015). UN Photo/Loey Felipe

On 9 August 2015, the UN Secretary-General called on the international community to commit to do more to improve the health and well-being of indigenous peoples, who face a wide range of challenges from inadequate sanitation and housing to high rates of diabetes, drug and alcohol abuse.

In his message to mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples message, observed annually on 9 August, Ban Ki-moon noted that most of the challenges they face to their health and well-being are “eminently preventable.”

They include inadequate sanitation and housing, lack of prenatal care, widespread violence against women, and high rates of diabetes, drug and alcohol abuse, youth suicide and infant mortality.

“These issues must be urgently addressed as part of the post-2015 development agenda in culturally appropriate ways that meet indigenous peoples’ conceptions of and aspirations for well-being,” the Secretary-General stressed.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms the right to maintain indigenous health practices as well as to have access to all social and health services for the enjoyment of the highest standards of physical and mental health.

***Quechua woman and child in the Sacred Valley, Andes, Peru | Author: quint | Source: Mother and Child | Wikimedia Commons

***Quechua woman and child in the Sacred Valley, Andes, Peru | Author: quint | Source: Mother and Child | Wikimedia Commons

This year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples puts a spotlight on the issue of indigenous peoples’ access to health care services.

The observance of the Day includes the launch of the State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Volume II, which examines the major challenges indigenous peoples face in terms of adequate access to and utilization of quality health care services.**

According to the authors, indigenous peoples face a myriad of obstacles when accessing public health systems, such as the lack of facilities in their communities, language barriers, illiteracy and a lack of understanding of their culture and traditional practices.

Also absent are adequate health insurance and the lack of economic capacity to pay for services.  As a result, they often cannot afford health services even if available.

“The contributions, knowledge and wisdom of indigenous peoples are of major importance as we seek to address the world’s sustainable development challenges.”

“The contributions, knowledge and wisdom of indigenous peoples are of major importance as we seek to address the world’s sustainable development challenges.”


The publication cites numerous examples of health gaps between indigenous peoples and non-indigenous populations living in the same countries, including significantly shorter life expectancy, elevated prevalence of infectious diseases and higher rates of malnutrition and child mortality.

Indigenous peoples are also more likely to suffer from substance abuse and depression and other mental disorders than their non-indigenous counterparts.

The challenges related to improving indigenous peoples’ health are linked to social, cultural, economic and political factors, including inadequate education, disproportionate poverty and discrimination in the health service delivery.  As such, the report calls for the development of specific health care concepts and targeted interventions tailored to their needs.

****A Maya family in the hamlet of Patzutzun, Guatemala | Author: John Isaac | Source: UNEP-WCMC Internal Reseources | Wikimedia Commons

****A Maya family in the hamlet of Patzutzun, Guatemala | Author: John Isaac | Source: UNEP-WCMC Internal Reseources | Wikimedia Commons

The first United Nations publication on the state of the world’s indigenous peoples was published in 2009 and revealed alarming statistics on poverty, health, education, employment, human rights, the environment and more.

United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples, which was created in 1985 to support indigenous participation at the Organization.  Over the past 30 years, around 2,000 indigenous people have received a grant from the Fund.

Further information: 

The State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Volume II 

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 

The United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples  

For more information on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, see www.un.org/en/events/indigenousday

*Source: UN. **Source: UN

Images:

***Quechua woman and child in the Sacred Valley, Andes, Peru | Author: quint | Source: Mother and Child | Wikimedia Commons

****A Maya family in the hamlet of Patzutzun, Guatemala | Author: John Isaac | Source: UNEP-WCMC Internal Reseources | Wikimedia Commons

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