NACCHO Aboriginal health news : Aboriginal women take hands on role in health

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Picture above: Dea Delaney-Theile, third from left, rear, and her fellow graduates with Lisa Jackson Pulver, right.

NACCHO congratulates Sheila Hure, Elaine Lomas, Joanne Delaney, Jennifer King, Sethy Willie and Ms Delaney-Theile who all received their degrees while working full-time at the Aboriginal Medical Service in Mount Druitt – home to Australia’s largest urban Aboriginal population.

Photo: Supplied     Story Sydney Morning Herald Lucy Carroll

When her mother died of a heart attack aged only 44, Dea Delaney-Theile needed answers.

”She dropped dead on the streets of St Marys,” she said. ”At that moment I had to find out why my people were dying so young.”

Now, 30 years later, Ms Delaney-Theile is one of six Aboriginal women – all of them the first in their families to gain a university qualification – to graduate with public health degrees from the University of NSW this week.

It is the largest group of Aboriginal people to graduate from a university medical faculty at one time.

Sheila Hure, Elaine Lomas, Joanne Delaney, Jennifer King, Sethy Willie and Ms Delaney-Theile all received their degrees while working full-time at the Aboriginal Medical Service in Mount Druitt – home to Australia’s largest urban Aboriginal population.

”Twenty years ago it was a very rare thing to have an Aboriginal person studying medicine or public health,” said Lisa Jackson Pulver, professor of public health at UNSW. ”These women have worked incredibly hard.”

Ms Delaney-Theile, who has worked in Aboriginal health for 23 years, plans to ”overhaul” research to reduce the high incidence of chronic disease, including heart disease, diabetes, renal disease and mental health, in the western Sydney community. ”Incarceration rates are still really high and there is still a 10-year life expectancy gap,” she said.

Ms Delaney-Theile said the role of education – particularly in urban areas – was crucial to improving health outcomes. Often boarding school scholarships only help kids from rural communities.

”But we have big Aboriginal populations in the cities and you don’t hear about many kids who get the opportunity to go to Joey’s or Saint Ignatius,” she said.

Professor Jackson Pulver estimates there are about 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students studying public health in Australia – a number that is on the rise.

But university is still out of the ”reality” for many young Aboriginal people, she said. ”Universities are normally in very expensive cities and most Aboriginal families don’t have the financial resources behind them to support their children,” she said.

School guidance councillors often discourage children from entering health, she said. Despite this, there are 260 indigenous students studying medicine in Australia and 56 of those are studying at UNSW.

“We’ve come great strides and we have a lot to shout about,” Professor Jackson Pulver said.

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