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Sat, Jan 20, 2001 - Page 4 News List

Aboriginal health society organized

RIGHTS The group will investigate claims that Aborigines are being targeted for gene research and that they face greater health risks

By Liu Shao-hua  /  STAFF REPORTER

Around 200 medical professionals, 90 percent of whom are Aborigi-nals, have applied to the Ministry of the Interior to register as the first medical society to focus on the health of Aborigines in Taiwan.

The Aboriginal Medical Society (原住民醫學會) intends to put forward opinions on policy-making relating to medical issues affecting Aborigines, according to its members.

"The first matter we plan to get involved with is the ethical principles for gene research," said Lin Ching-feng (林慶豐), an official responsible for Aboriginal affairs at the Department of Health. Lin himself is of Aboriginal origin and a member of the society.

Lin said gene research targeting Aborigines has been a contentious issue for decades in Taiwan.

"A handful of Hakka have also been targeted because they are also more socially isolated than other Han people," Lin pointed out.

Aware of this problem, the health department initiated an interdepartmental discussion within the government, which is continuing, over the ethical principles for gene research, Lin said.

It has been reported that some Aborigines had blood drawn more than 10 times a month because various free health checks were conducted in the same remote village. All of the blood extracted for research purposes so far has been extracted in the course of free health checks.

But some Aboriginal groups and researchers have complained that the need for informed consent was ignored.

Apart from ethical principles, the society also plans to focus its research on certain specific diseases, such as gout and alcoholism, that have a higher prevalence in Aboriginal communities.

"We hope to see an Aboriginal-oriented health awareness for these kinds of diseases for DOH policy making," said Tung Sen (董森), convener of the society, who is of Aboriginal origin and also the director of the health center at Mutan Township (牡丹鄉) in Pingtung County.

Living in the shadow of mainstream society has caused Aborigines to suffer, both physically and mentally, Tung said.

"The society hopes to highlight our differences from Han people in cultural and social respects, as well as in the types of pandemic diseases to which we are susceptible," he said, adding that it also hopes to influence future health policy.

According to official statistics, the mortality rate among Aborigines is 2.5 times higher than the national average rate. The first and third most prevalent causes of death among Aborigines, accidents (over 80 percent of which are car crashes) and liver diseases respectively have been shown to be related to alcohol abuse.

"The majority of people who die from these two causes are young and middle-aged," Lin said.

The average life expectancy of Aborigines is 10 to 12 years less than that of the nation as a whole.

The government has officially identified nine Aboriginal groups. The Ministry of the Interior says that approximately 400,000 of Taiwan's population of 22 million are Aborigines.

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