Friday 11 June 2010

Two mutually incompatible ideas

I saw a sticker on a car this week that said, "Close the Gap - demand equality in Aboriginal health" (or something close to that).

During the same week, I read an article in the Spectator (not available on line) regarding Aboriginal health. I am going from memory here, but it said that Aboriginals paid less attention to their health because they believe in curses and witch craft - it you get sick, it's because you've been cursed (or words to that effect). Why bother with washing your hands when the cause of illness is not germs, but sorcery?

I was a bit taken aback by that, and do not have the knowledge to say whether that is so or not. However, let's assume for the moment that it is true in some areas (Karl Mayerhofer will be along shortly to say that it is rubbish - but until that time, let's just go with the flow)*.

I'll add another bit to the mix. The Aus had a story on Aboriginal education this week (can't find that either) which mentioned a school somewhere, and the teacher had to wear a microphone connected to an amp and speakers because quite a few Aboriginal students were quite deaf as a result of ear infections, and she needed to boost the volume to get through to them. (Don't ask me for a link - I read the paper in a cafe at breakfast and searching for the articles on line afterwards is a pain, especially when newspapers fail to index their sites properly).

And of course we know where poor education outcomes and illiteracy lead to - poverty, welfare, dependency, alcoholism, drug abuse, crime and blah blah blah.

So you could say that the root of many of the problems in Aboriginal communities these days results from poor infant and childhood hygiene.

But if the story on sorcery is correct, those poor hygiene practices are not the result of poverty, lack of water etc etc - but cultural beliefs and practices. My Mum grew up in a hessian shack with a dirt floor in the middle of the wheat belt - a hot, dusty place at the best of times, with water having to be fetched from a bore tank. Somehow, her generation grew up in the 1920s without suffering the agonies of ear and eye infections - and they did so because her Mum was manic about washing faces and hands. With hot water and soap - water that had to be boiled in a kettle over a wood fire, water that didn't come out of a tap and soap that was hideously expensive to a family struggling during the Depression.

If cultural practices are the problem, then throwing a huge increase in the health budget at the problem is not going to solve it. Sending expensive ear and eye specialists to the outback to treat serious and nasty and repetitive infections is not tackling the underlying issue - a simple failure to wash properly and thoroughly.

Could it be that a whole raft of problems could be alleviated by simply getting Aboriginal parents to wash their kids properly?

But wait for it - that would mean attacking and destroying a facet of Aboriginal culture - the belief in sorcery and things like the kadaitcha man.

So on the one hand, we have the Squishy Social Justice People clamoring for government to "close the gap" on Aboriginal health, but on the other hand, it would appear that in order to do that, they need to attack and dismember some traditional Aboriginal beliefs and customs.

The result? The Squishy People refuse to believe that washing (or lack of it) could be the issue. The real issue is that racist white people are not sending enough medical staff to the outback to deal with Aboriginal health issues - so more money and more resources are required.

Instead of a fruitless, multi-billion dollar medical effort, how about we just send a few pallet loads of face cloths and soap?

* by the way, is this you Karl? "As the editor of a guitar magazine that caters to fans of instrumental guitar"

1 comment:

Steve at the Pub said...

There is so much spent on Aboriginal health in the N.T. that I doubt it is possible to spend another razoo on it.

There is free GP, pharmacy & nursing services more or less at their doorstep.

Unfortunately most of this money & resources are wasted.

It is frustrating for health workers when the GP conducts an examination, prescribes (say) a course of tablets to cure the (say) infection. The nurse dispenses the pills, supervises the taking of the first tablet/capsule/whatever right there in the dispensary, the patient leaves the medical centre and does not have enough interest in their own health to even take the 2nd tablet, never mind the entire course of pills.