Indigenous Inequalities
Indigenous inequalities are very evident in health. Unfortunately, Indigenous Australians suffer from much worse health problems than the non-Indigenous Australian population. Here are a few key figures to demonstrate the stark inequalities. In 2017, Indigenous children experienced 1.7 times higher levels of malnutrition than non-Indigenous children. Additionally, three in 10 indigenous people who needed to go to a health provider did not go. Indigenous people’s barriers to healthcare frequently include high costs, unavailability of services, the distance from healthcare services and long waiting times.

Another inequality is that 45% of Indigenous people, aged 15 years or over, said they experienced disability, compared to just 18.5% in the non-Indigenous population. Between 2014-2016, Indigenous children aged 0-4 were more than twice as likely to die as non-Indigenous children. In the Northern Territory, Indigenous infant mortality was four times higher than the national rate. Lastly, Indigenous people had to wait 50 days on average for elective surgery compared to 40 days for non-Indigenous people. All this evidence highlights the stark Indigenous inequalities in health, demonstrating the gap that exists in access to key services and educational tools.

Original Closing the Gap Framework

In 2008, the Australian government made a promise to address Indigenous inequalities in a strategy called Closing the Gap. “The Gap” refers to the vast health and life-expectancy inequalities that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The framework involved seven targets aimed at reducing socio-economic Indigenous inequalities, including many health targets. However, when the government began evaluating the success of the framework, it became clear that there is still a long way to go.

Five of the seven targets remain unmet, with very little evidence of progress in those target areas. The two targets that the Australian government has met were early education and Year 12 completion rates, but the other targets including child mortality, school attendance, literacy and numeracy and employment and life expectancy, have shown little or no improvements. A lot of the discussions around the failure of the framework have surrounded the issue of the lack of Indigenous voices. The Australian government established the framework with no engagement of the local Indigenous people it was seeking to help. It ignored their individual experiences and their local solutions, and instead came up with a one size fits all solution that failed to understand the Indigenous community.

2020 Programme Refresh

Because of the failure of the original Closing the Gap framework to address Indigenous inequalities in health, in July 2020, the government met and agreed upon a new approach. The government believed a refresh and shift in the Closing the Gap framework was necessary. This refresh involved a partnership between all Australian governments and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak organizations. This represents a huge advancement and the first time that an agreement with an aim to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has actually involved Indigenous people in its localized solutions.

This newly designed framework will embed the cultural determinants and social determinants of health to provide a single, overarching policy framework for Indigenous health. The vision is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be able to enjoy long, healthy lives that are centered in culture, with access to services that are prevention-focused, responsive, culturally safe and free of racism and inequity. The framework ensures that Indigenous people are at the center of creating solutions that work for them in their cultures. Alongside this nationwide government framework, other progress is occurring including the implementation of more healthcare services with healthcare officials that actually represent the population. In fact, healthcare services are involving more Indigenous workers and the government is implementing Indigenous-specific healthcare facilities to better cater to Indigenous people’s specific needs.

New Progress

Evidence is beginning to mount showing the positive effects of reducing Indigenous inequalities in health. For example, from 2013 to 2019, the number of Indigenous medical practitioners employed across Australia increased from 234 to 488. Additionally, Indigenous-specific primary healthcare organizations provided 3.7 million episodes of care in 2018-19. Though progress has been slow so far, there are some promising statistics and a renewed government focus that will hopefully start to reduce Indigenous inequalities in health.

– Lizzie Alexander
Photo: Flickr

Cancer and Poverty in AustraliaThe nation of Australia suffers from the highest rates of cancer in the world, but, the disease takes a significant toll on the disadvantaged and rural residents in particular. Impoverished and disadvantaged Australians are 60% more likely to die from cancer due to a lack of finances for a timely diagnosis and proper treatment. The connection between cancer and poverty in Australia can be clearly seen.

The Link Between Cancer and Poverty

The cost of treatment is only one part of the problem. The importance of prevention cannot be overstated and because of a disadvantaged situation, many poor Australians are more likely to smoke cigarettes, be overweight and not get screened for cancers. This leads to more impoverished residents developing a range of cancers that reach later stages before they are diagnosed.

While the country has a decent healthcare system, the connection between cancer and poverty in Australia is significant. Poor citizens are more likely to develop cancer and are the least financially prepared for it. One out of every three Australian cancer patients has to pay out-of-pocket for treatment ranging from a few hundred dollars up to $50,000 AUD. Patients that have private health insurance rather than public medicare often pay far more out-of-pocket, sometimes double, in addition to their regular insurance payments.

Rural Residents in Remote Areas

Residents of Australia’s rural areas often face the worst financial obstacles as they must incur travel expenses and be far from home for extended periods. In 2008, only 6% of oncologists practiced in rural areas, leaving a third of Australians that live in remote regions without immediate access to decent treatment. There were 9,000 more cancer deaths in rural areas than in urban areas over a decade, a 7% higher death rate compared to city residents.

Due to the extensive travel time, many cancer patients from remote regions are forced to quit their jobs increasing the financial burden of treatment. Those that can keep their jobs, often force themselves to continue to work despite their illness and during treatments in order to pay the bills. In many instances, cancer patients must take loans from friends or family. creating further financial obligations.

Indigenous Australians

In addition to rural residents, indigenous citizens also disproportionately die from cancer compared to other residents. Indigenous Australians have a 45% higher death rate from cancer compared to non-indigenous patients. Cancer is extremely underreported by indigenous people in remote or rural areas resulting in a lack of proper data for the government to act on.

Addressing the Link Between Cancer and Poverty

To reduce the mortality rates of cancer patients, the government must address the correlation between cancer and poverty in Australia. As of 2017, only 1.3% of Australia’s health budget is allocated for cancer prevention, screening and treatment. The country must invest in prevention as well as rapid-access cancer aid for both patients and caretakers.

The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia and Cancer Council Australia are working to improve cancer treatment in rural areas of Australia. Solutions to diminish the connection between cancer and poverty in Australia include new methods of diagnosis and treatment. Telehealth and shared care, in which the patient’s primary physician works with an oncologist to limit travel for treatment, help cut down on costs for struggling patients.

Cancer organizations in Australia have worked with the government to set up the regional cancer center (RCC) initiative across the country to make cancer care more accessible for residents living in rural areas. Since 2010, 26 regional cancer centers have opened to help patients living in remote locations.

Prioritizing the Health of Rural Residents

For the mortality rates of impoverished or rural cancer patients to lessen, the government must invest in prevention as well as access for rural residents. Above all, for Australia to successfully provide aid for cancer patients there must be accurate data collection on cancer and poverty in Australia to properly allocate funds for all demographics.

— Veronica Booth
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Paraguay
The landlocked country of Paraguay, located in south-central South America, currently faces authoritarian rule and turbulence. These recent troubles have contributed to the long history of poverty in Paraguay. Since the 1860s, the country has participated in three different major wars in South America. It also experienced a civil war in the 1940s which given the Paraguayan people a strong sense of fear and unwillingness to express themselves freely. This sentiment has only recently begun to diminish in the early 21st century.

Background

The citizens and inhabitants of Paraguay are less diverse and more ethnically homogenous than in other South American countries. Most are of European and Guarani descent. Rivers are very important to the country’s economy, as they support the function of many hydroelectric power plants. Paraguay is one of the best producers of soybeans, and many parts of the country are flourishing, where fertile soil allows for diverse diets and high standards of living.

While the country has been making a lot of progress in the 21st century in its efforts to combat poverty, economic distress continues to be a major issue. Leading up to the year 2017, there was actually an increase in poverty rates. Even though the country performed better economically overall, the total poverty rate that year rose from 26.6% to 28.8%. Even extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day, increased in this period.

Those numbers are heartbreaking because it shows a reversal in the steady decline of poverty rates in Paraguay in the years prior to 2016. To put this into perspective, in the five years previous, the poverty rate declined from 31.37% to 26.58%. This sudden worsening was unexpected as the South American region was collectively making progress in the fight against poverty. However, things have changed since then, and poverty in Paraguay is showing signs of improvement.

Path to Progress

Some think that changes in poverty in Paraguay are the result of the government shifting its focus to extreme poverty. People in extreme poverty may not have the most basic necessities, such as food, shelter, sanitation, and medical services. Jose Molinas, the Minister of Technical Planning, has admitted that there is a goal of reducing the extreme poverty rate to three percent. However, there is no goal to address the total poverty rate, leaving some impoverished people neglected.

Alicia Bárcena, the Executive Secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), stated that a lack of investment, extensive divisions in class structure, and limited productivity gains are threatening the region’s ability to reach the poverty reduction goals agreed upon by U.N. members in 2015. Perhaps by addressing these issues, then, and by giving attention and care to the total poverty rate as opposed to only extreme poverty rates, the country can see a decline in poverty rates.

In fact, progress is already being made, with the poverty rate going down from 24.2 to 23.5 between 2018 and 2019. This is due in part to the ongoing support from other countries and aid organizations.

The Australian embassy in 2019 initiated the Direct Aid Program (DAP). DAP provides small grants for over 80 countries worldwide, including Paraguay, funding non-governmental organization initiatives to aid these countries. It supports things like providing education for the youth, including vocational and sex education. Other initiatives include promoting the economic development of women to achieve gender equity, as well as infrastructure projects for indigenous peoples. One such initiative, Poverty Spotlight, helped 30,000 Paraguayan families leave poverty through higher income generation. Continued support of programs and initiatives like these will help maintain the country’s progress and gradually eradicate poverty in Paraguay.

Fahad Saad

Photo: Flickr

dual outbreaksThe impact of COVID-19 has resulted in fractured economies and health care systems all around the world. While some countries are trying to recover, others just cannot catch a break. Papua New Guinea is a country that finds itself in a unique and desperate situation. With the onset of COVID-19, the country was also hit with a resurgence of polio. Dual outbreaks are a cause of significant concern for Papua New Guinea. Australia is coming to the aid of its neighbors with a substantial financial assistance plan.

Resurgence of Polio

Papua New Guinea is one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the pacific region. The country was declared officially polio-free 18 years ago, but in 2018, the virus was rediscovered in a 6-year-old child. Shortly after, the virus also emerged in multiple other children from the same general area. Polio is especially harmful to children under 5 years old and can lead to lifelong paralysis.

A few months after the polio outbreak, the Australian Government stepped in and responded by giving $10 million to Papua New Guinea’s polio immunization crusade. A few weeks later, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) received another $6 million, which an additional $15 million dedication followed in November 2018. Rachel Mason Nunn, an experienced social development worker in Papua New Guinea, stated that “We have a window right now to invest heavily in infectious diseases in Papua New Guinea. Australia should continue to invest in health care in Papua New Guinea, if not just because it is the right thing to do, but because helping our region acquire strong health systems is a vital element of Australia’s own health security.” Australia is the largest contributor to the development of Papua New Guineas’ struggling health care system.

COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea

In an extreme case of bad luck, Papua New Guinea experienced two disease outbreaks within two years of each other. In a frantic request for aid, the government reached out to the World Health Organization (WHO) in an effort to take some weight off its already overburdened health care system.  When COVID-19 hit the county, there was a limited number of testing kits available and a shortage of medical staff as well as medical supplies and protective gear. The WHO responded by deploying emergency medical teams and supplying necessary resources to upscale testing in Papua New Guinea.

The Road Ahead

Due to the support of contributors like the WHO and Australia, millions of child polio vaccinations have been administered and a sufficient number of COVID-19 testing kits are available in the country. For a country that is still dealing with diseases like malaria and polio, the people of Papua New Guinea are pushing ahead. This unique situation serves as a global reminder that the prevention and treatment of other diseases should not be neglected during the COVID-19 pandemic and that inter-country support is essential in addressing dual outbreaks.

– Brandon Baham
Photo: Flickr

How Indigenous Australians’ COVID-19 Response Averted DisasterWhen the COVID-19 pandemic reached Australia, Indigenous Australians looked poised to be disproportionately affected. They statistically suffer from higher rates of known COVID-19 risk factors, such as obesity. In fact, 15.6% of Indigenous Australians have three or more chronic diseases. On top of physical risk factors, higher rates of poverty and underdeveloped health care, especially in rural areas, meant that if COVID-19 spread to many indigenous communities, the infrastructure was insufficient to combat it. Yet, COVID-19 rates for Indigenous peoples remain far below Australia’s national average. Learning from past mistakes, national health officials deferred to Indigenous leaders. The leaders made sure Indigenous Australians’ COVID-19 response was actually tailored to their own communities.

H1N1

In 2009, the H1N1 virus, known as the swine flu, hit Indigenous communities hard. Indigenous Australians, who include both Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders, constitute 2.5% of Australia’s population. However, they made up 11% of swine flu cases. Additionally, they suffered from a death rate six times higher than the national average. The health gap between white and Indigenous people in Australia has long been a problem. The government launched the “Close the Gap campaign” in 2007.  This campaign aims to bring the average lifespan of Indigenous peoples up to par with that of white Australians (71.6 and 75.6 years for Indigenous men and women compared to 80.2 and 83.4 years). The H1N1 virus clearly illustrated how large the healthcare gap really is. As of 2020, the campaign is not on the schedule to bridge this gap by its target date of 2031.

Community Leadership

What has been lacking in the unsuccessful efforts to strengthen healthcare for indigenous Australians is sufficient input from Indigenous leaders. As the lead economist at the Australia Institute Richard Denniss put it, “It is far more effective from an economic point of view to give Indigenous Australians the power to take control of the policies that affect them.” In addition to training sufficient medical personnel in rural areas, programming was key to informing communities about the dangers of COVID-19 and the necessary precautions to stop it. Indigenous Australians’ COVID-19 response stood to be most effective when led by Indigenous Australians. The Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia shared videos on social media about the importance of health check-ups and social distancing. The videos use Indigenous people and Aboriginal Australian English. The Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service regularly broadcasts COVID-19 information using Aboriginal radio stations that reach remote and rural communities.

Results

While programming may seem trivial compared to actual testing and medical infrastructure, Indigenous Australians currently have COVID-19 at a rate six times lower than non-indigenous Australians. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group reported 146 cases in the indigenous community. Of these, only about 25% were in rural communities. Some remote aboriginal communities, such as Yakunytjatjara Lands in Queensland, closed their borders at the beginning of the pandemic. Due to these measures, Indigenous Australians’ COVID-19 response has largely been successful at keeping the virus at bay from remote communities where medical infrastructure is especially scarce.

Indigenous Australians have defied expectations largely through community tailored information and, in rural communities, exercising their sovereignty. As Indigenous populations worldwide struggle with COVID-19, Indigenous Australian’s COVID-19 response is a positive example to emulate.

Adam Jancsek
Photo: Flickr

Australia's Foreign Aid Initiatives Amid the COVID-19 PandemicAmid the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia continues its foreign aid efforts, especially with investments in sustainability and infrastructure. This demonstrates Australia’s deep commitment to altruistic sustainable solutions. The total Australian development assistance was still four billion AUD (Australian dollar) in the 2019-2020 year, even though the nation is in the depths of its first recession in 29 years and is affected by the global pandemic. This four billion AUD makes up 0.21% of Australia’s total budget as seen in recent years, highlighting foreign aid as a prerogative for Australia despite economic shortcomings, including budget cuts and a global pandemic.

The Pacific

Australia’s foreign aid used $1.4 billion to finance developmental assistance in the Pacific. There are significant infrastructure needs in the region, so developmental assistance includes infrastructure. The Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility in the Pacific became operational on July 1, 2020. This funding supports efforts such as roads, buildings and power. Australia’s foreign aid works with governments and institutions on education and health programs in the region. This was done in recognition of the notable infrastructure needs in the region and the important role infrastructure plays in sanctioning growth. This demonstrates the depth of Australia’s commitment to the growth and development of the Pacific region.

The Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific aims to transform Australia’s international assistance and be a pillar of sustainable, principles-backed foundational investments in the Pacific and the nation of Timor-Leste. It permits Australia to work directly with partner governments, and also the private sector, to manage essential infrastructure gaps while unsustainable debt is avoided. This highlights Australia’s commitment to sustainability.

Australia’s foreign aid budget poured $500 million into financing infrastructure in the Pacific since 2017. The amount of $450 million went to humanitarian and protracted crises, which saves lives, alleviates suffering and strengthens human dignity.

The Coral Sea Cable System

From 2017-2020, the foreign aid budget spent up to $200 million on improving access to the internet, dubbed the “Coral Sea Cable System”, in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. This has many beneficial aspects, such as improved access to resources for rural populations.

In 2019-2020, Australia’s foreign aid budget also spent $145 million contributing to strong, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in Indonesia. Australia’s aid to Indonesia is important because about 26.42 million Indonesians live in poverty, and roughly 5.5 to 8 million Indonesians are estimated to have fallen into poverty due to COVID-19. According to the World Bank’s Human Capital Index, the next generation of Indonesian citizens would be 54% as productive as they could have been if they had a complete education or full health. Therefore, Australia’s foreign aid is very important at this time.

Labor mobility describes how easy it is to move from one occupation to another. Countries like Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu face challenges such as a large percentage of their population living in remote regions. Thus, these populations have low labor mobility. Expanding labor mobility is necessary for the future of these regions.

Conclusion

Despite being in the middle of a recession and amid a global pandemic, Australia was able to give four billion AUD, or 0.21% of its total budget, in developmental assistance toward the Pacific region, especially investing in sustainability and infrastructure. The Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility in the Pacific aims to be sustainable, functional investments by allowing Australia to work directly with partner governments to manage infrastructure gaps while avoiding unsustainable debt. Since 2017, Australia has invested $500 million into infrastructure in the Pacific.

– Madi Drayna
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Australia
Despite ranking as one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world, Australia continues to struggle with implementing solutions to nationwide poverty. Specifically, child poverty in Australia has begun an upward trend in the past five years despite overall national economic growth as well as declining unemployment rates.

Data from the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) reports that over the past two decades, child poverty levels reached a high of 18.1% in 2007, substantially higher than the overall national poverty level of 12.6% in that same year. Child poverty levels dropped by almost 3% in 2013-2014 data in response to improved social security and unemployment plans, however, most recent reporting from 2017-2018 indicates another increase in child poverty to 16.9%; almost 4% higher than the national level. Though employment rates have gone up specifically for Australian mothers, a rapid increase in housing costs, as well as growing earnings inequalities, have left one in six Australian children under 15 below the national poverty line.

Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage: The Smith Family

With social security and unemployment programs only providing minimal financial assistance that still falls below the poverty line, opportunities for educational advancement are crucial for Australian children to break out of these cycles of poverty. Education is one of the great equalizers in society, however, unequal educational opportunities only further broaden nationwide earning inequalities and further disadvantage impoverished Australian children. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority data indicates that children living in poverty have around a 30% negative difference in educational outcomes based on Year 12 graduation rates and standardized testing scores. Technological advancements and increasing skill-level requirements for jobs will only further contribute to the financial burden for impoverished families and will surely lessen educational outcomes.

To combat these inequalities, an independent nonprofit organization called The Smith Family has implemented a successful national campaign to combat child poverty in Australia by addressing educational disparities and providing more equal opportunities for students in the lowest socioeconomic status. Started in 1922, this organization has dedicated its mission to improving the lives of Australian children in a multitude of different ways. For the past 30 years, the primary focus of the organization has shifted to providing educational opportunities to give Australian children the best chance to achieve their potential and reduce child poverty in Australia. Current programs include the Learning for Life Program, literacy and numeracy programs and technology programs.

Learning for Life Program

The Learning for Life Program involves a long-term approach to addressing the educational needs of those suffering from child poverty in Australia. Sponsorships from the community go towards providing much needed financial support for disadvantaged children, as well as guidance and resources for the families of these children. This program implements both literacy and technology programs as well as introducing further opportunities in art and career experience. This program focuses on the first two decades of a child’s life to help improve graduation rates and university enrollments to provide the framework for future economic success. Every year, this Learning for Life Program reaches around 34,000 of the most disadvantaged Australian children in communities throughout the nation.

Literacy and Numeracy Programs

Research has proven that impoverished children in Australia are more likely to start school at a literacy disadvantage, and lacking these literary foundations hinders overall future cognitive development as these children progress through higher levels of education. The Smith Family has implemented research-based programs that pair students with low reading abilities with more advanced peers to help encourage reading through collaboration. The Smith Family also provides disadvantaged families books and mathematics resources to further promote and support early age cognitive development outside of the classroom.

Technology Programs

The COVID-19 global pandemic has amplified how access to technology is a massive barrier for impoverished children. To combat this matter, workers from The Smith Family have distributed over 5,000 computers and internet packages to the homes of disadvantaged families in Australia between 2007 and 2019. Not only have these packages helped improve educational access for impoverished children but they have also proven effective at increasing feelings of social inclusion and connectedness to the rest of society.

Proven Success

The Smith Project uses qualitative results to analyze the efficacy of its programs through directly measurable statistics. Recent reporting shows attendance rates for children in the program hovering around 90% each year, which is above the national Australian average. These consistent attendance rates provide a firm foundation for future academic success, resulting in close to 70% of The Smith Family students graduating Year 12, almost 10% higher than the national average from the lowest socioeconomic backgrounds. High Year 12 graduation rates have led to greater employment and higher education rates than the national averages, both vital to escaping poverty and breaking the cycle of disadvantage. The most recent five-year plan from The Smith Family includes a continuation of current programs while hoping to reach 30% more youths currently suffering from growing child poverty in Australia.

– Jackson Thennis
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Australia-2
About 45% of Australians experience a mental illness at some point in their life. Meanwhile, about 20% of that number experience one mental illness, 11.5% are diagnosed with a disorder and 8.5% are diagnosed with two or more disorders in a single year. Women are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with a mental illness. In addition, about 30% of children have experienced two or more mental illnesses in 2020. As such, mental health in Australia remains a serious problem.

The most common illnesses among adults are depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders. Moreover, ADHD, anxiety, depression and conduct disorders are most prevalent in children. Additionally, more chronic disorders are quite common. People who struggle with mental health commonly face discrimination. Consequently, one in 10 people dies by suicide. Thankfully, mental health in Australia has undergone recent changes with new health programs, pharmacology and treatments.

Organizations Helping Australia

Funded research is crucial to reduce the mental health crisis in Australia. The Million Minds Mental Health Research Mission provided $125 million over 10 years since 2018. This will help Australians access new approaches to preventative treatment measures.

The initiative KidsMatter receives funding from the Australian government and Beyond Blue. It targets mental health in children at preschools and kindergartens. Likewise, The Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network combat mental health by bringing young Australians together.

COVID-19 has not improved mental health in Australia. Programs like Beyond Blue and LifeLine Australia provide a wide array of effective services such as 24/7 suicidal hotlines. In addition, the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners Initiative helps patients attain mental health aid through Medicare.

 Poverty and Mental Health

Unsurprisingly, poverty correlates with mental illness and stress. Australia has the 16th highest poverty rate out of the 35 wealthiest countries in The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). People who have lost jobs and live in impoverished areas are most likely to suffer from psychological stress. A recent study found one in four people experience mental stress in destitute homes, while only one in 20 does in more wealthy homes.

 As a result, the WHO Mental Health Action Plan of 2013-2020 has helped initiate global health coverage and social care services for all citizens and communities. Additionally, the Australian Council of Social Service seeks to reduce poverty by creating policy and reform through the government to the communities. Reducing poverty contributes to reducing mental health as well.

Aid is within reach for any individual struggling psychologically. In addition to governmental reform, many nonprofits aim to help those with mental illness. As mental health in Australia rises, professional treatment rises as well. Yet, only half of Australians seek this treatment. This is due to the discrimination and stigma of mental health. Although the mental health crisis is far from over, significant improvements in Australia have occurred.

– Shelby Gruber
Photo: Flickr

Access to Showers
Many people consider showering to be a basic human right – and the United Nations General Assembly certainly agrees. In 2010, the assembly classified The Human Right to Water and Sanitation as a human right. Yet not everyone has equal access to showers and sanitation; individuals who are part of marginalized groups, such as the homeless, often have limited access to showers. Ensuring that all individuals have access to forms of sanitation such as showering is essential to creating a more equal society.

The Importance of Showers

According to a 2017 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, access to sanitation methods such as showering is necessary for good health and hygiene. Individuals who do not have access to showers and thus shower only occasionally are at risk for diseases and infections such as ectoparasite infestations like lice. A study of homeless populations in Europe who took infrequent showers showed that they had a higher risk of developing these infestations, which included scabies, fleas and head lice. In Mexico, a homeless man named Fernando told El Universal that he had not “had a proper shower in 14 years,” saying that he and other homeless individuals near Puente Negro only had access to the unclean, pungent waters of the Tijuana canal in which to bathe themselves.

Though many homeless individuals adamantly seek out showers and other forms of maintaining hygiene, individuals who sleep outdoors or participate in substance use are at greater risk of being unable to regularly access showers and sanitation. In Boston, Massachusetts, homeless individuals who were able to shower regularly usually gained access to showers through a family member’s or friend’s home (20% reported this) or a day shelter (another 20% reported this). Yet those who do not have family or friends whom they can turn to or those who sleep on the streets may have a more difficult time gaining access to showers.

Mobile Showers: A Growing Industry

In June 2014, a nonprofit organization called Lava Mae emerged. Lava Mae founder Doniece Sandoval created mobile showers and toilets for the homeless population of San Francisco out of a retired bus, saying that if food could be delivered through mobile means, “why not showers…?” Since then, Lava Mae has built a “worldwide support network,” and 163 global communities have formed 190 mobile hygiene programs after receiving training and inspiration from Lava Mae.

By 2020, Lava Mae has provided 32,000 homeless people in California with 78,000 showers. Those who receive mobile showers receive shampoo, a towel, soap and socks – and they maintain privacy in a shower stall. Lava Mae has even created a hygiene toolkit that anyone can download if they wish to start their own mobile hygiene service in a community.

Iglesia Ancla (Anchor Church)

Other organizations are providing the homeless with mobile showers as well. In Tijuana, Mexico, a church called Iglesia Ancla (Anchor Church) started a mobile shower service in August 2018 to help homeless individuals have access to showers. Members of the church took an old cargo van and renovated it to contain three bathrooms with a shower, mirror, toilet and sink. This van travels to areas where homeless populations concentrate two times a week and provides them with shampoo, soap, a towel and a change of clothes.

Puente Negro Mexico News Daily reported that one homeless man in Puente Negro experienced shock at hearing that he would be able to take a shower through the church’s mobile shower program, saying that he might be able to “get a job” and that he almost fainted in the heat.

Orange Sky Laundry

Similarly, another organization, Orange Sky Laundry, is working in Australia and New Zealand to give mobile showers to the homeless. With a setup of 21 vans in Australia, the organization, founded in 2014 by Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, is currently managing 15-20 loads of washing and showers daily. About 116,000 Australians are homeless, and in Auckland, New Zealand, where the vans have set up, about 1,000 people sleep outside – a factor that, as mentioned previously, limits people from access to showers and increases the risk of infection.

Next, Orange Sky Laundry plans to expand its operation. Orange Sky Laundry plans to expand its organization to serve the homeless in the U.S., the U.K. and Greece. Marchesi and Pratchett, who have already powered through several hurdles – including broken laundry machines – to successfully deliver mobile showers, hope that their “homeless friends (can) transition back into being connected into the community again.”

Concluding Notes

These mobile shower organizations are imperative in helping the homeless, particularly those who live and sleep on the streets. Increased access to showers links to lower rates of infectious diseases – and helping the homeless around the world is necessary for achieving a greater form of equality. Many homeless individuals, including military veterans, use mobile laundry services such as Lava Mae to shower on a regular basis. Staying clean on the streets is not always possible or easy, as one veteran, Silas Borden, mentioned in Reader’s Digest. Therefore, these mobile laundry services can bring benefits to many communities around the world.

– Ayesha Asad
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in Australia 
What is the happiest nation on Earth? Well, according to BBC News’ qualifications, Australia held the title for three straight years. Australia boasts a long life expectancy, a thriving economy and low rates of unemployment. Australia also consistently beats OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) averages when it comes to economic standards. For example, Australia is above the OECD average employment rate for people 15 to 64 years old. More than 73% of this demographic has employment, establishing the country as a place of opportunity and economic success. This statistic may explain why many consider Australia “happy,” but it leaves out a significant portion of Australia’s population: the elderly. They often experience exclusion from employment statistics, being a largely retired group, leaving their story untold and unrecognized. Here is some information about elderly poverty in Australia.

Elderly Poverty in Australia

Poverty inevitably throws its hardest punch to vulnerable groups like women or children. These groups have since become the focus of government programs and charities that aim to protect these demographics. But people too often forget the elderly, another vulnerable group.

Elderly poverty is a very real threat, even in developed nations like Australia. In fact, almost a third of Australians on pension live in poverty. The poverty rate for all of Australia’s elderly aged 65 and up is 19.5% and this number increases to 28.7% in groups over 75. With such shockingly high numbers, the question is, how is Australia neglecting its elderly?

In 2016, an OECD report found that Australia spends over 50% less of its GDP on pension than other OECD countries. In fact, only 3.5% of the country’s GDP goes toward providing people with a pension. That leaves elderly people on a pension that is less than the median household income for Australia. The annual payment for one person is around $22,000. Considering the relatively high cost of living in Australia, this amount leaves many in need. The Australian government has ignored calls to raise pensions so far with pensions rates dropping or remaining stagnant since 2002.

Elderly people in Australia are especially at risk to fall into poverty. With so many people past the age of retirement and unable to work, they must depend on Australia’s unreasonably low pension to live. Aging is already a stressful process that, combined with financial stress and housing insecurity, becomes overwhelming.

The Solution

Thankfully, elderly people in Australia are not without help. Australians and people from all over the world are fighting for them. Specifically, Mission Australia has made elderly poverty one of its focuses. It calls for age pension reform and passionately advocates for Commonwealth Rent Assistance Recipients (of which many are elderly) to receive benefits that preserve a dignified and comfortable standard of living.

Council on the Ageing’s Chief Executive, Ian Yates, has admitted that raising the pension will be difficult, but that it is a necessary step. He said that “Claims that the age pension is somehow too extravagant and unsustainable do not bear out.”

Elderly poverty in Australia presents a problem that too often slips under the radar. However, with more people agreeing with Ian Yates or joining Mission Australia’s cause, the solution to the problem could be on the near horizon. Unlike most poverty issues, the solution to this one is simple, improve pension and/or other government programs in place for the elderly.

Elderly populations deserve respect and dignity just like any other group. And, only after the Australian government has addressed their plight can Australia truly be in contention for the “happiest nation on Earth.”

– Abigail Gray
Photo: Flickr