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Realizing the health rights of indigenous peoples

Fabian Mauricio N. T. ,  coordinator of the mobile vaccination point in the indigenous community of Concordia in Colombia. WHO / Blink Media – Nadège Mazars

by Tia Jeewa, Senior DEI Adviser

The United Nations’ International Day of Indigenous Peoples is marked on August 9. It is an occasion to emphasize the rights and contributions of Indigenous populations and to shed light on the health challenges they encounter.

Fast facts

  • Over 476 million indigenous peoples live in more than 90 countries. 
  • Two-thirds of people 73% live in rural areas and conserve 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity 
  • In 2023, in recognition of the complex social and economic challenges faced by indigenous communities, WHO adopted a new resolution to address the health challenges faced by indigenous peoples worldwide.

Health inequities

The UN estimates that life expectancy among indigenous people across a range of countries is up to 20 years lower than in the populations at large. High levels of diabetes, and poorer maternal and mental health contribute to this inequity. In addition, for many people, discrimination prevents them from accessing the full benefits of health systems and medical treatment. The impact of a changing climate on health outcomes is a further burden for communities that are already disadvantaged. 

Poverty, inadequate housing, discrimination, limited access to education and employment, and social exclusion have a profound impact on the health and well-being of indigenous communities. Added to this, forced migration and loss of land due to development projects disrupt independence, traditional lifestyle, and living off ancestral land.

To ensure their equitable access to health services, promote intercultural care and traditional medicine practices, and enhance health equity and action on the health determinants impacting Indigenous Peoples, WHO recognizes the importance of indigenous peoples’ health leadership.

WHO has committed to developing a Global Action Plan with the engagement of Indigenous Peoples to ensure their free, prior, and informed consent throughout the development process.

  • To highlight the leadership by and for Indigenous Peoples in the health sector, as well as for activities across sectors on key determinants of health, such as nutrition and environmental health, around the world. 
  • To raise awareness of the planetary and One Health needs of Indigenous Peoples and advocate for their rights in relation to health and health environments across generations. 
  • To share knowledge on approaches (policies, strategies, programmes and interventions) for the holistic health and wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples, including in the context of climate action and the green transition, and facilitate learning across countries. 

The WHO Foundation marshal resources to support the work of WHO and other global health initiatives. Health equity is a central plank of our strategic approach to improving health globally.

Find out more

WHO Foundation Strategy 2023-25

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Cherika Hardjakusumah

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