50% of Travellers die before 39 - study

 

Some 50 per cent of Travellers die before their 39th birthday and some 70 per cent fail to live past the age of 59.

The startling findings contained in a new book on Traveller mortality suggest that life expectancy in the Traveller community is equivalent to that of settled people in Ireland in the 1940s.

Travellers' Last Rights: Responding to Death in a Cultural Contextwas compiled from data during the 10-year period between 1995 and 2004 in the Dublin area.

While providing pastoral care services to Travellers at times of death and bereavement we were increasingly concerned about the age profile and cause of death in particular, of the deceased.
Fr Stephen Monaghan

The study found that seven out of every 10 deaths among Travellers aged two years and over were male and that the most common cause of death among males was road traffic accidents, accounting for 22 per cent.

Men exclusively accounted for all suicide deaths among Travellers, over three-quarters of whom were aged less than 39 years.

Cancer was the most common cause of death for females, accounting for 25 per cent. Coronary illness and road traffic accidents were the most common causes of death among males and females combined.

The study concluded there had been no improvement in Traveller's health and life expectancy in 20 years.

It also found the Travelling community experienced a significantly higher infant death rate than that found in the settled population. Some 10 per cent of Traveller children die before their second birthday, compared to just 1 per cent of the general population.

Some 38 per cent of infants deaths were as a result of sudden infant death syndrome and one quarter  were caused by a genetic condition.

When comparisons were made with national population statistics it showed a considerable disparity in the age, gender and pattern of Travellers deaths analysed, the study noted.

Specifically it found that 2.6 per cent of all deaths in the total population were for people aged under 25 versus 32 per cent in the Traveller data.

Deaths resulting from cancer and heart disease were significantly lower than the population average, as Travellers were deceased much younger from other causes.

The book's authors Jacinta Brack and Fr Stephen Monaghan said the study aimed to highlight new research and to examine factors affecting Travellers interactions with and uptake of, specific services at times of death.

Fr Monaghan said: "While providing pastoral care services to Travellers at times of death and bereavement we were increasingly concerned about the age profile and cause of death in particular, of the deceased.

"As no Traveller-specific health and mortality analysis has been undertaken in Ireland since 1987, we felt compelled as the custodians of such information, to compile it to assist those advocating culturally appropriate services for Travellers and to contribute to the knowledge base required to implement public health and prevention strategies on some of the issues raised," he added.

The book recommended the development and adoption of diversity policies by service providers, positively naming and targeting Travellers to improve their engagement with the uptake of services.

It also advocated the appointment of culturally trained staff to liaise with patients and families and the adoption of anti-racism and intercultural training for all service provider personnel.