Life expectancy of Travellers remains low

  • Deborah Condon

Male Travellers in Ireland have the same life expectancy today as the general population had in the 1940s, a major new study into Traveller health has revealed.

According to the All Ireland Traveller Health Study, there are just over 40,000 Travellers living in the Republic and Northern Ireland.

The life expectancy of a male Traveller is currently 61.7 years, which is 15.1 years less than men in the general population. This is equivalent to the life expectancy of the general population in the 1940s.

The life expectancy of a female Traveller, meanwhile, is currently 70.1 years, which is 11.5 years less than women in the general population. This is equivalent to the life expectancy of the general population in the 1960s.

The study found that the death rate among Traveller infants has fallen slightly since 1987, from 18.1 per 1,000 live births to 14.1 per 1,000. However, this is still significantly higher than the current death rate among infants in the general population - 3.9 per 1,000 live births.

The study noted that Travellers in general, but particularly male Travellers, continue to have higher rates of mortality for all causes of death. Furthermore, suicide rates are almost seven times higher among Traveller men compared with men in the general population.

The researchers from University College Dublin (UCD) did find some improvements in women's health. For example, uptake of cervical screening is higher among Travellers than women in the general population, while uptake of breast screening is similar to the general population.

The study found that access to the health service is good. Some 94% of Travellers in the Republic have a medical card and this figure rises to 99% for older Travellers. Almost 97% of Travellers are registered with a GP.

However the study also noted that the healthcare experiences of Travellers are not as good as the general population, with communication cited as a major issue by both Travellers and service providers.

Meanwhile, just under half of all Travellers feel discriminated against. This is experienced in all aspects of life. However, the least amount of discrimination is experienced in sport, followed by the health sector.

The report added that Travellers have a strong sense of community and high levels of community/family support. However, education levels are very low, with only about half of Traveller adults having completed at least primary school education, although more than 90% of 14 year olds are now in school or training centres.

Commenting on the findings, Health Minister, Mary Harney, said that they would provide ‘a framework for policy development and practice in relation to Traveller health'.

The report was commissioned by the Department of Health, in conjunction with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland. It was carried out by UCD's School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science.

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