According to the All-Ireland Traveller Health Study, more than 36,000 Travellers live in this country but many still face discrimination and difficulties with their health.
The study would help shape future services and policies for helping the ethnic community, according to Health Minister Mary Harney who launched the research yesterday.
Life expectancy for male Travellers now stands at 61.7 years, which is around 15 years less than men in the general population. This is equivalent to the average life expectancy of people in the 1940s.
Life expectancy at birth for female Travellers is now just over 70 years of age, which is 11 and a half years less than women in the general population. This is equivalent to the average life expectancy of people in the 1960s.
On a positive note, the research carried out by University College Dublin for the Department of Health found Travellers are increasingly able to access health services.
Traveller women are accessing breast screening and cervical screening at rates similar to and even higher than the general population. More than 94% of Travellers also have a medical card while nearly all members of the community are registered with a GP.
Despite this, infant mortality rates continue to remain disproportionately high for the community.
Traveller infant mortality is around 14 per 1,000 live births, which is more than three times that of the general population.
Suicide rates among Traveller men are seven times higher, the study also found.
Just under half of Travellers surveyed also feel they are still discriminated against.
Reacting to the study, support group Pavee Point assistant director Martin Collins said the gaps in mortality rates were worrying: “I am obviously very seriously concerned as a Traveller man to see that the gap (for life expectancy) has widened from 10 to 15 years for Traveller men.
“This demonstrates the need for new initiatives and resources to be undertaken with us men.”
Missy Collins, a primary healthcare worker involved with Travellers, called on health chiefs to prioritise funding for the community. “I’m delighted to see the pride that Travellers have shown in our culture and identity which is reflected in the study. However, some of the findings are frightening and it shows that a lot more work has to be done if Travellers are to live as long as settled people.”