The death of beloved Indigenous musician Dr G. Yunupingu was “preventable” and has drawn attention to a “largely preventable” health issue affecting remote Australian communities, according to his doctor.
Dr Yunupingu died last month at the age of 46, while undergoing dialysis treatment for kidney disease. He was being treated in Darwin at the time, as there were no services available in his Galiwink’u community on Elcho Island.
“Dr Yunupingu’s death was preventable and avoidable and is a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened,” Dr Yunupingu’s specialist Dr Paul Lawton has told the ABC.
“Not because he was neglected in Darwin, but his kidney disease could have been prevented in the first place.”
Speaking at Garma Festival in north-east Arnhem Land earlier this month, Dr Lawton said (via AAP) that many Indigenous Australians travel hundreds of kilometres for therapy, which he says is a “nightmare” similar to purgatory.
“You’re neither alive nor dead,” he said.
Aboriginal people are much more likely to need treatment for kidney disease than non-indigenous Australians, and things are supposedly even worse when it comes to kidney transplants.
“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,” Dr Lawton said.
“An indigenous patient from east Arnhem… has a 10th of the chance of transplantation of a non-indigenous person from east Arnhem.”
A number of Aboriginal community organisations are calling on the Northern Territory and federal governments to match the $680,000 they raised to expand on-country dialysis support in Arnhem Land.
“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.
Dr G. Yunupingu released his third and final album The Gospel Album in 2015. Last year, his claims of mistreatment in hospital were dismissed by the Northern Territory Health Minister, who caused controversy by suggesting that the calls were publicity stunts.