Transforming Health Systems to Serve the Wellbeing of Indigenous and Minority People

Published on 1 January 2012

This is the report from a conference organised by IDS and the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) to bring together key stakeholders and experts from Asia, Africa and Latin America to share their expertise and establish a common agenda to address inequities in universal health coverage that affect indigenous and minority peoples.

Building on participants’ experiences, the conference explored three themes that highlighted critical issues at the interface between dominant medical norms and practices in state health systems and the socio-cultural realities of indigenous groups.

The themes were:

  1. territory, mobility and access;
  2. traditional medical knowledge and intercultural, culturally sensitive, health care; and
  3. gender and sexual and reproductive health, including maternal and child health (MCH).

Participants used ‘mind-mapping’ techniques to identify the current state of health systems and their vision of what health care for indigenous groups should look like, in order to develop an ambitious agenda for future collaborative work on bridging divisions.

The outcome of the conference was a better understanding of what interventions to transform health systems have worked and why. Participants shared their experiences with significant and promising efforts in improving health access. These experiences included working with and strengthening networks of healers and indigenous selfhelp groups, developing mobile and cross-border programmes, reducing stigma, and promoting initiatives to facilitate community empowerment.

Health financing, good governance, poverty alleviation and protection of lands and livelihoods were widely recognised as important across the three themes. Yet in reality, few initiatives actually link or integrate health, livelihoods and governance. There was agreement on the need for improved systematic documentation and recognition of indigenous peoples’ knowledge, including their medical expertise.

There was also an emphasis on the need to improve engagement between indigenous health care practitioners and biomedical providers. The relationship of pharmaceutical companies to traditional medicine was also explored.

Participants identified the need for a global network to share information about what works and why, when it comes to addressing the health challenges faced by indigenous and minority peoples. Such a network would help strengthen advocacy for international policy responses to these challenges. Recognising the need for a global network, at the end of the conference, participants decided to establish the Indigenous and Minority Peoples Health Alliance (TIMPHA).

The mission of TIMPHA is to transform health systems to serve the wellbeing and health of indigenous and minority groups and help ensure universal health coverage in Africa, Asia and Latin America for all citizens. Members of the network developed a research agenda and potential joint action research projects to address key knowledge gaps and pilot innovative responses to indigenous health challenges.


Image of Danny Burns

Danny Burns

Professorial Research Fellow

Publication details

published by
IDS and Royal Tropical Institute (KIT)
Oosterhoff, P., Burns, D., van der Kwaak, A., Shankland, A. and Lopez, A.


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