Improving quality of life for indigenous peoples

‘Human Development’ is a concept developed by the United Nations Development Program to encompass the economic, educational and health status of a population and is measured by the Human Development Index (HDI). Martin Cooke, of the Department of Sociology and the Department of Health Studies and Gerontology, at the University of Waterloo, Ontario and colleagues in Australia and Canada describe how the countries of the developed world are consistently at the top of the HDI rankings. However, indigenous peoples in those countries commonly have much poorer health and social conditions than the non-indigenous population.

Until now there has been little data on the relative improvements in the socioeconomic and health status of the indigenous and non-indigenous populations, and whether the gap between the groups was growing .the researchers say. With this in mind, they used government sources to obtain census data on life expectancy, educational attainment and income to obtain a modified HDI measure for indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in 4 countries for the period 1990 to 2000.

The team found that the HDI scores of indigenous peoples in the United States, Canada and New Zealand improved at a faster rate than that of the general population, essentially closing the gap in human development. However, the opposite was seen in Australia where the gap widened during the 1990s.

The researchers point out that we are now two years into the United Nations International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and the present study should serve as a wake-up call that we cannot become complacent in efforts to improve the social, economic and physical health of the indigenous peoples of the developed world.

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