The loss of Australia’s most prominent indigenous musician Dr G Yunupingu to kidney disease has shone a light on the “largely preventable” renal health nightmare afflicting remote communities, his doctor says.
The 46-year-old blind Yolngu singer died last month in Darwin while undergoing dialysis treatment, as there were no services available in his Galiwink’u community on Elcho Island.
His specialist, Dr Paul Lawton told Garma Festival that many indigenous Australians have to travel hundreds of kilometres for end-stage renal therapy, which he describes as a “nightmare” akin to purgatory.
“You’re neither alive nor dead,” he said.
A similar diagnosis forced Yirrkala woman Gundimulk Wanambi to live 700km away from her coastal Arnhem Land community to access dialysis services.
“We want to come back home to our own country, our family … so we can enjoy ourselves, go hunting and get our own food … and feel healthy again,” she said.
“Darwin is not my home.”
Aboriginal people are up to seven times more likely to need treatment for the chronic illness than their non-indigenous Australians.
This inequity is even worse for kidney transplants, Dr Lawton says.
“Compared to a non-indigenous patient in Surry Hills in Sydney, an indigenous patient with the same age and illness in Redfern right next door has a third of the chance of a kidney transplant,” he said.
“An indigenous patient from east Arnhem… has a 10th of the chance of transplantation of a non-indigenous person from east Arnhem.”
Last year, four Arnhem Land Aboriginal community organisations raised $680,000 to expand on-country dialysis support in the region, and are calling on the Northern Territory and federal governments to match that funding.
“Sadly, the rollout of this life-saving service across Arnhem Land will come too late for our beloved singer, the late Dr G YunupiNGu, but we have a chance to make a difference for hundreds of other people now,” Miwatj Health Chief Health Officer Dr Lucas de Toca said.