The Australian Medical Association (AMA) will launch its fifth report card on indigenous health, focused this year on Aborigines in prisons, at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. They stated that the Aboriginal prisoners need immediate access to national health and pharmaceutical benefits to stem a growing health crisis.
AMA president Mukesh Haikerwal said 3% of indigenous people were in prison, compared with 0.3 per cent of people from non-indigenous groups. He explained that their proportion in prisons is much higher than their proportion in the community and they have a significant set of problems arising from mental illness, substance abuse, alcohol abuse and chronic diseases that are not being dealt with in the prison system.
He explained that it's important that Aboriginal prisoners get access to Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme while they are in prison because they have restricted access to services and to medical care they might otherwise have.
Dr Haikerwal said that aborigines both in prison and in the community suffer from very high levels of mental illness, chronic illness, substance abuse and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. He said that the state corrections services should replace their own in-house health services with government-based health services.
Dr Haikerwal said that the key recommendations in the report should include screening all prisoners for mental health and substance abuse issues, and the provision of specialist health services that were culturally sensitive and responsive to the needs of Aboriginal people.
His comments came as the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy meeting called for tougher cannabis laws. The council has also endorsed a national strategy on alcohol abuse and has announced that it would develop, over six months, a plan to fight the growing use of amphetamines and other dangerous psycho stimulants.