Garma: Kidney failure that killed Dr G Yunupingu highlights huge problem for Indigenous Australians

Garma: Kidney failure that killed Dr G Yunupingu highlights huge problem for Indigenous Australians

Garma: Kidney failure that killed Dr G Yunupingu highlights huge problem for Indigenous Australians

Updated 6 August 2017, 20:45 AEST

The death of Arnhem Land musician Dr G Yunupingu at 46 years of age should highlight the crippling impacts kidney failure is having on Indigenous Australians, health experts and advocates say.

The death of Arnhem Land musician Dr G Yunupingu at 46 years of age should highlight the crippling impacts kidney failure is having on Indigenous Australians, health experts and advocates have warned.

As well as Dr G Yunupingu's death, land rights champion and Gumatj leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu — who has led the country's talk on constitutional change at the Garma Festival this week — had to have his leg amputated due to the same disease.

"The late Dr G Yunupingu asked me to speak about this … the fact that Indigenous Australians have less access to treatment in hospitals, less access to procedures than non-Indigenous Australians for exactly the same condition," Paul Lawton said.

Dr Lawton is a kidney specialist who treated both men.

Galarrwuy Yunupingu is one of the lucky ones, having received a kidney transplant.

"In order to get a transplant he's actually bucked the trend," Dr Lawton said.

Low transplant chances for Indigenous people

"An Indigenous Australian from East Arnhem has a tenth of the chance of a non-Indigenous Australian of getting a kidney transplant when all else is equal," Dr Lawton said.

"Same illness, same age, just a different coloured skin," he said.

Dr Lawton said Galarrwuy Yunupingu had also beaten the statistics by being able to receive dialysis on country for more than four years.

But the former Australian of the Year had to have his leg amputated last month — something he joked about in front of the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader at the Garma Festival.

Dr Lawton said if there was no action, there would be a 70 per cent increase in patients on dialysis in the Northern Territory in 10 years' time.

"We already have about 700 patients on dialysis in the Territory and nationally around 12,500. About one in eight of them are Indigenous," he said.

On the ABC's Q&A special from Garma on Saturday, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion conceded treatment for kidney disease for First Nations people was inadequate.

"This tsunami, it has to be seen like that … This is happening at a geometric rate of progression," he said.

"This is not something we can just fiddle with. We have to have a more significant answer than we have now."

Efforts to set up dialysis stations

East Arnhem Land communities are pleading for that answer.

Aboriginal organisations from across the region raised $680,000 to set up dialysis stations in every major community so sufferers do not have to rely on the three machines in the area.

They called for both NT and Federal Governments to match that.

"Indigenous people still continue to have issues around the access to renal treatments closer to their homes," health worker Melanie Rarrtjiwuy Herdman from Miwatj Health said.

"That is an issue that's had a huge impact."