News / Africa

Indigenous Peoples Have More Health Problems

Mbororo children in Cameroon. Credit: Emma Eastwood / MRG
Mbororo children in Cameroon. Credit: Emma Eastwood / MRG

Multimedia

Audio
  • Listen to De Capua report on indigenous peoples study

Joe DeCapua
A new report says the world’s minorities and indigenous peoples suffer more ill health than other segments of the population. It says decades of marginalization, poverty and displacement have led to profound health inequalities.


Minority Rights Group International has released its annual report: State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. 

“The right to health, as you know, is a precondition for all other rights. It’s essentially the right to survive. We found that health outcomes generally are far worse for minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide,” said Carl Soderbergh, the group’s director of policy and communications.

He said no one region is worse than another.

“We see this right across the board whether we’re talking about Roma in Europe with higher infant mortality rates to indigenous communities and Afro-descendant in the Americas. Indigenous children in Guatemala, for example, suffer chronic malnutrition nearly twice the rate of majority children. In South Asia, also, we see high child malnutrition rates among the Dalit community -- and in many countries in Africa, also, worse health indicators for minorities and indigenous peoples,” he said.

Soderbergh said the report cites the main cause of marginalization.

“Essentially, it boils down to one word – exclusion. That minorities and indigenous peoples do not get to be involved in the design and implementation of major national healthcare initiatives. For example, very often healthcare campaigns are not conducted in minority or indigenous languages. This is a particular problem we’ve seen in Africa.”

He gave an example of exclusion in Namibia.

“We understand that no health campaigns have been conducted in the San indigenous languages. And so therefore San communities are excluded from the very vital knowledge about HIV/AIDS prevention. That’s just one example, but there are many right across the continent,” he said.

The Minority Rights Group International report says that loss of land and displacement have contributed to poor health.

“First of all,” he said, “it exacerbates the poverty level of minority and indigenous communities. So, they may not be able to afford, if they are sick, the transport costs to get to healthcare clinics. They may not be able to afford the fees when they arrive. And also, very crucially, they’ll lose access to the traditional medicines that they have learnt about, over the centuries, and used.”

Soderbergh added, for example, the Batwa people of the Great Lakes region have suffered major displacement. But the communities that still had access to traditional medicines seemed to fare better than those who did not.

According to the report, some cultural practices are also affecting the health of minorities and indigenous peoples. It names early marriage and female genital mutilation as major risk factors.

“These two practices in particular the increase the risk of something called obstetric fistula, which is a gynecological problem that can be deadly if not treated. And certainly leads to the exclusion of minority and indigenous women, who have this problem,” he said.

Obstetric fistula can occur during prolonged hard labor in childbirth. A fistula is a hole or tear between the rectum and vagina or between the bladder and vagina. It leaves a woman incontinent and often shunned by the community because of the odor.

Minority Rights Group International said minority and indigenous communities must be involved in the design and implementation of health care initiatives. It calls on the U.N. General Assembly to hold meaningful consultations on the issue. The United Nations is scheduled to hold a summit on indigenous peoples late next year.

Soderbergh warned that any programs that replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals are “doomed to fail unless discrimination towards minorities and indigenous peoples is urgently addressed.”

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs