UN goals on Indigenous people in danger of failing

Levels of disadvantage were found to vary across nations, and being Indigenous in a wealthy country did not necessarily lead to better outcomes

The Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ Health Population Study provides a snapshot of how Indigenous people across the world are tracking now in comparison to the wider population.


It was commissioned by the British medical journal The Lancet.

Executive Editor Stephanie Clarke says it reveals the circumstances of Indigenous people in countries around the globe.

“The aim of this is to establish a baseline of health measures that we can compare against in the future. And also hope that governments will take notice of the poor state of health of the Indigenous groups we looked at – most of them – take more account of Indigenous people in their systems.”

The study was lead by Australia’s Lowitja Institute.

It draws on data from 28 Indigenous and tribal groups across 23 countries, and accounts for more than half of an estimated global population of 302-million Indigenous people.

Researchers analysed key data indicators, including life expectancy at birth, infant mortality, low and high birth weight, maternal mortality, educational attainment and poverty.

They found evidence of poorer health and social outcomes for Indigenous people world-wide than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

But the level of disadvantage was not uniform.

Infant mortality rates were found to be at least twice as high in Indigenous populations in Brazil, Colombia, Greenland, Peru, Russia, and Venezuela than in the benchmark population.

Life expectancy at birth was five or more years lower for Indigenous populations in Australia, Cameroon, Greenland, Kenya, New Zealand, and Panama than for the wider population.

In some instances Indigenous people were found to be doing better than the benchmark population.

The Chief Executive of the Lowitja Institute, Romlie Mokak says in Myanmar for example the Mon people fared better in educational attainment and economic status.

“It kinda of wets your appetite to think there are Indigenous people whose circumstances are not deficit in some areas, as is often presented as the case, but is actually better than the wider population.”

The study finds a great deal of work still needs to be done if the United Nations is to meet its 2030 goals of ending poverty and inequality.

It makes three recommendations:

That governments develop targeted policy responses to Indigenous health; improve access to health services; and gather Indigenous data within national surveillance systems.

Chief Investigator and senior writer Professor Ian Anderson from the University of Melbourne says having good data is essential.

“It is absolutely critical if you are going to focus on making good policy. If you are going to focus on improving access and addressing the social factors that result in health disadvantage.”