Locked out of the right to health – National Indigenous Times

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There is no worse discrimination than health inequality. Australia boasts about its double trillion-dollar domestic product economy.

But when it comes to the health rights of its citizens, not everybody counts.

Australia’s population is 25.5 million people, of which the overwhelming majority are citizens and entitled to receive Medicare.

Readers may find this hard to believe, but health rights such as Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme are denied to Australia’s 42,000 incarcerated individuals, of whom up to 1,000 each year, are children.

This is disgraceful. This is deprivation of basic human rights.

There has been a long silence about this life-threatening inequality. Where is the outrage? Where are the campaigns?

Some of our work in restorative and transformational projects in prisons — adult and children’s prisons — has allowed us to witness the effects of health inequalities, the impacts of no Medicare.

There are endless horror stories of untreated infections that led to amputations, and worse — death. Awful cases which were easily avoidable if Medicare was readily available like it is to those on the outside. We are saddened that the perfunctory healthcare we all take for granted that is not afforded to all in this country.

An incarcerated individual must not be a second-class citizen, so why are our governments dishing them out second-class health care?

Inmates in Australia are denied Medicare, denied the PBS, and denied access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

With the criminal age of responsibility still at 10-years-old, Federal governments past and present are denying Medicare to jailed children.

Do we believe in human rights for all Australians young and old? Or do we take them away when someone is incarcerated? The cycle of disadvantage is perpetuated when we withhold access to standard health care during incarceration.

Think about who our prison population is made up of: the poorest, the most vulnerable, the homeless. Many never had a chance from the beginning. Deterrence is one thing, but cruelty is another.

Suspending Medicare and preventing access to the PBS and NDIS are human rights abuses.

We believe all prisons should have a doctor on-site, who can bulk bill. Far too many leave prison in worse health than when they came in.

Prisoners have a higher prevalence rate of co-morbidities than the general population, higher rates of disabilities, high rates of acute mental health conditions — and First Nations prisoners have even higher rates.

Prisoners are nearly three times as likely to have acute mental health conditions compared to the wider Australian community and up to 15 times as likely to have a psychotic disorder. First Nations prisoners are once again hostage to higher rates.

With First Nations people making up 28 per cent of the prison population nationally as well as having a higher susceptibility to health issues, they are without a doubt disproportionately affected by this deprivation of healthcare access.

Why do we deprive them of the exact healthcare structures that could help them while they serve their sentences? In the end, it is not the prison authorities who take away Medicare, PBS and NDIS access. It is our Federal Government.

It has been decades of immorality by Federal governments in suspending these health rights. To argue that the cost is too high in one of the world’s wealthiest nations is irrational and deceptive.

To know there are children as young as 10, physically suffering, isolated, in bleak concrete boxes without access to proper medical treatment is shameful.

Yet all it takes to fix is minor amendments to Federal Acts to ensure all prisoners are protected with Medicare, the PBS and entitled to the NDIS.

Corrective services departments across the country need to put pressure on their respective State and Territory governments for this change. And State and Territory governments need to advocate at a Federal level for those inside who are being deprived of their basic health rights.

We must prioritise awareness raising, as far too many are in the dark about this injustice. We must be relentless.

To know what is right and choose not to do it is the worst cowardice. How we treat our country’s most vulnerable defines us all.

By Gerry Georgatos and Connie Georgatos

Gerry and Connie Georgatos, father and daughter, are lifelong social justice advocates. They are part of Spartan First Mental Wellbeing.

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