Australia to Train Aboriginal Doctors

Updated: 3/21/2008

CANBERRA, Australia

Australia committed $17 million on Thursday to train Aboriginal nurses and doctors, as part of efforts to close a 17-year gap in the life expectancies of indigenous and other Australians.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's pledge to improve health services for indigenous Australians builds on the government's landmark apology last month for inflicting decades of suffering on Aborigines.

The apology, passed Feb. 13 by parliament, also promised to improve the quality of life in indigenous communities.

A government report last year found that, overall, Australia's life expectancy was 77 for men and 82 for women. Aboriginal men live to 59 and women to 65, on average.

''Closing the gap now becomes the hard bit,'' Rudd told Parliament. ''Currently, this 17-year-gap, which exists between indigenous and non-indigenous life expectancy, is unacceptable for a country as wealthy as ours.''

The 17-year figure is a combined average for both genders.

Aborigines, a minority of 400,000 within a population of 21 million, are the poorest ethnic group in Australia. They are less likely than other Australians to have jobs or achieve basic education standards and are more likely to be chronically ill and incarcerated.

Thursday's pledge aims to achieve equality in life expectancy across races by 2030.

The document is vague on detail about how this target will to achieved and does not identify Aboriginal communities that currently have substandard medical services.

But it committed $17 million to train Aboriginal doctors and nurses and another $13 million to reduce tobacco smoking among Aborigines, who are twice as likely to smoke as other Australians.

Indigenous people in Western developed countries tend to be relatively poor. But studies have found that the health of Aborigines is worse than that of indigenous people in the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

Many Aborigines live in Outback camps or on the fringes of cities in conditions more commonly found in developing countries. They suffer an infant mortality rate three times that of other Australians.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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