Australia's indigenous affairs minister has said that a report showing high incidence of diseases like rheumatic fever among Aborigines was a "shameful indictment" of the system.
The official snapshot of Aboriginal health showed "frustratingly slow" progress in trying to improve the health of the original Australians, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said.
AdvertisementMacklin said it was shocking that 250 cases of acute rheumatic -- a potentially fatal disease that can be prevented with antibiotics -- were recorded in the Northern Territory between 2003 and 2006.
"Acute rheumatic fever is almost unknown in developed countries, yet rates in some Australian indigenous communities are among the highest in the world," Macklin said at the launch of the health report.
"The fact that new cases were still presenting when this data was collected is a shameful indictment of indigenous health."
The report also found that Aborigines were 14 times more likely than other Australians to be hospitalised with kidney dialysis, and had higher rates of diabetes, circulatory and respiratory diseases, and eye and ear problems.
Macklin said Aboriginal life expectancy was also 17 years shorter than other Australians, a gap her government was committed to closing within a generation.
"I have no illusions about how tough this is going to be, especially when up until now improvement has been far too slow," she said.
Australia 's 470,000 Aborigines comprise just over two percent of the country's 21 million population.
Many live on remote Aboriginal camps beset by alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence but the largest numbers live in Sydney, Brisbane and the New South Wales coastal town of Coffs Harbour.
Macklin's centre-left Labor government has apologised to Aborigines for past wrongs since it was elected last November, while continuing tough policies introduced by the previous conservative government to try to improve conditions in the remote Northern Territory.
"We know that there is no silver bullet to turn around indigenous disadvantage," she said.
"We are working across all areas -- housing, education and health."