Indigenous Peoples Health Day Part 2: Health Issues and Indigenous Communities

Posted on August 11, 2017 by kerri

As discussed in our previous post for Indigenous Peoples Health Day, the health issues of Indigenous people worldwide are no different than those of non-indigenous communities, however, due to a variety of circumstances including finances, geography, cultural and historical influences, and influences of non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous peoples worldwide experience higher-than-typical rates of a variety of health conditions, both preventable, non-preventable, genetic, and acquired. To learn more about these factors, please check out our previous post.

Statistics on Indigenous Peoples Health issues

Worldwide, Indigenous peoples face similar health concerns for a variety of typically similar reasons. Geography (rural or remote living areas), environmental conditions (housing, temperature), lack of government support, poverty, health, social and educational systems, and many other issues contribute to the increased prevalence of both chronic and acute health issues in Indigenous populations.

Here are some examples of how health of Indigenous communities is disproportionately affected in opposition to non-indigenous communities.

  • Latin America: Infant mortality is 60% higher than in non-indigenous populations. [1]
  • Unclean water is a widespread issue, in addition to housing, affecting indigenous peoples. [1]
  • Tuberculosis impacts Indigenous peoples at a rate considerably greater than that of non-Indigenous populations. In Canada, less than 5% of people are indigenous, yet 19% of tuberculosis cases are in Indigenous peoples. In Bolivia, TB is 5 to 8 times more prevalent in the indigenous population, and Greenland, 45 times greater. [1]
  • Malnutrition disproportionately affects Indigenous peoples. [1] Poverty can lead to malnutrition by way of inadequate nutrient consumption. As well, type 2 diabetes, which is onset by a combination of genetic predisposition (greater in Indigenous populations) and environmental influence (nutrition and carb-heavy diet and obesity contributing to insulin resistance leading to T2 diabetes), is a nutrition linked disease that disproportionately affects indigenous populations. Similar genetic and dietary issues, diabetes, and fatty food consumption, also lead to higher than usual rates of cardiovascular disease. [1]
  • In Latin American Indigenous populations, HIV/AIDS rates increased from 4% to 30% in a 17 year span from 1990 to 2007. In adolescent women in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, rates are as high as 50%. [1] These rates as well as the increases in HIV infection are inconsistent with those of the greater Latin American and Caribbean population. In Canada, Aboriginal (Indigenous) people were 2.7 times more likely to acquire HIV in 2014. [2] 4.3% of Canadians in 2014 identified as Aboriginal, yet represented 9% of identified HIV cases. [2]
  • In the United States, 2.5% of addictions treatment admissions were for Native American peoples, despite that only 1% of the US population is Indigenous. [3]
  • Youth often have higher rates of mental health problems and disability, especially disability due to injury. [4]
  • Mental health issues and addictions disproportionately affect Native Americans, and fewer resources for mental health exist in these populations. [3]  Addiction, namely alcoholism, carries a genetic predisposition: history of abuse in Residential Schools in Canada and the United States contributed to many turning to alcohol to cope with abuse. [4]
  • Respiratory health issues may be triggered by damp or moldy living conditions, smoke and incense involved in traditional ceremonies, or be more prevalent due to the role of tobacco in traditional ceremonies. [5] Woods typically burned for healing, such as cedar, may also cause issues for people with asthma. [5]

While many barriers to healthcare and social determinants of health exist for indigenous populations, communities can become healthier. Interventions for Indigenous communities must properly combine culturally relevant and appropriate information for the population being supported—it is most helpful to have individuals from the community who have faced a specific health problem assist in developing healing programs that incorporate the values of health in Indigenous cultures, including social and spiritual connection, and traditional healing practices, and respecting the practices of the community working towards better health.

Medical ID jewelry is important for people with any of these health conditions. While diabetes alert bracelets or heart patient medical ID jewelry may seem like more obvious needs for medical ID jewelry, those in recovery from substance use issues or addiction, or with other mental health problems, may also feel safer wearing medical ID for addiction recovery or medical jewelry stating their mental health concerns.

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