NACCHO Aboriginal Health News: COVID-19 one year on, lessons have been learnt?

feature tile 20.1.21 text: COVID-19 one year on, what lessons have been learnt? person in full PPE with graph behind him with increasing graph lines

COVID-19 one year on, lessons learnt

A year ago, Connor Bamford, a Research Fellow, Virology, Queen’s University Belfast, wrote about a mysterious outbreak of pneumonia in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which transpired to be the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of writing, very little was known about the disease and the virus causing it, but Conor Bamford warned of the concern around emerging coronaviruses, citing Sars, Mers and others as important examples. Every day since we continue to learn so much about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, finding new ways to control the pandemic and undoubtedly keep people safer in the decades that will follow.

To view The Conversation article in full click here.

Stop the Spread Stay Strong image form SA government Department of Health& AHCSA YouTube video

Image source: SA Government Department of Health YouTube image.

Healing Foundation supports Uluru Statement

As feedback is sought on the second stage of the Indigenous Voice co-design process, The Healing Foundation has reiterated its strong support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Petersen said that Stolen Generation survivors and their descendants see all elements of the Uluru Statement – the Constitutional change, the Legislative change, and the Makarrata Commission – as crucial to the process of healing for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“Stolen Generations survivors and the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community know what they need to heal, and they have been telling governments for years,” Ms Petersen said. “The benefits of healing flow to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and, ultimately, to all Australians.”

To view The Healing Foundation’s media release in full click here.

silhouette of pregnant Aboriginal woman with red heart for herself and baby

Intergenerational Trauma Animation screenshot. The Healing Foundation.

New permanent GP clinic for Katherine

Katherine’s only general practice closed late last year, but the town has now secured a new locally delivered service.

Talking to newsGP in November last year, following the closure of the only general practice in Katherine, NT, RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements said ‘It’s very disheartening and disappointing. The impact on this community can’t be underestimated … So we really must see the relevant agencies … look to see what novel solutions there are.’

Now, along with the local community, hospital and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs), Dr Clements is welcoming the announcement of a permanent general practice, Katherine Family Medical Practice, opening in April 2021 saying ‘I am very excited for them [the new practice owners]. What they are doing in terms of linking in the ACCHOs, hospital, Northern Territory Primary Health Network [NT PHN] and Territory Government is excellent, and [they have] a good plan in mind’.

To view the full article in newsGP click here.

extract of a road map with a pin in Katherine

Image source: newsGP.

Decade-long syphilis outbreak needs national response

Australia’s peak medical body is calling for a coordinated national response to bring an end to a syphilis outbreak that has spread through the country for 10 years. The sexually transmitted infection is easily treatable but has been moving through parts of Queensland, the NT, WA and SA since January 2011. It has primarily affected young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote and rural areas, particularly Northern Australia.

More than 3,600 people have been diagnosed since the outbreak began, according to federal Department of Health data. “It was fairly clear that there was a very ineffective response to this very significant disease epidemic across four states, and there was a total lack of coordination from the various states and territories in dealing with it,” the Australian Medical Association’s NT president, Dr Robert Parker, said.

In 2017, a group of state and federal government health officials developed a strategic approach to deal with the outbreak. $21.2 million in federal funding was given to Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations to fund extra staff and point-of-care testing until 2021. John Paterson, the CEO of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT (AMSANT), says the funding is due to expire next month. He’s questioned what that will mean for screening and education programs in remote areas, which he says already need more resourcing. “It’s not enough,” he said. “We need a commitment from the Commonwealth Government to ensure we can get the appropriate ongoing funding.”

To view the article in full click here.

health professional's gloved hands holding cotton ball to finger of Aboriginal person after finger prick blood test

Image source: National Indigenous Television (NITV) website.

NT David and Goliath liquor laws battle

A David and Goliath battle is being waged in the NT as health and social welfare organisations and Indigenous leaders battle business behemoths and the Territory Government over the issuance of new liquor laws. In a reversal of previous policy and decisions, including a five-year moratorium on new liquor licences, the NT Government has given the go ahead to a Dan Murphy’s megastore in Darwin, two new Coles outlets in Palmerston, and takeaway alcohol sales in the Tiwi Islands community of Pirlangimpi.

At stake are, on the one hand, huge social costs from the increased availability of alcohol, especially for Indigenous communities, and on the other hand, the commercial interests of large corporations. There is particular concern for what this new Dan Murphy’s will mean for the three dry Aboriginal communities – Bagot, Kulaluk and Minmarama – that are within walking distance of the proposed megastore in Darwin. Indigenous leaders have led the opposition to it, fearing the health and social consequences.

But alcohol harm is not limited to Indigenous communities. The per capita alcohol consumption of the NT is among the highest in the world, estimated at 11.6 litres of pure alcohol per year, compared to the Australian average of 9.5 litres.. Moreover, while alcohol abuse is a serious problem in impoverished Indigenous communities, research shows that more Indigenous people abstain from booze than non-Indigenous people.

Not surprisingly, the per capita costs and harms of alcohol consumption in the NT have long been the highest in the nation. In 2015–16 the health and social costs for the NT were estimated by the Menzies School of Health Research at $1.4 billion a year, or four times the national average; this included $100 million for healthcare, $58 million for road accidents; $272 million for crime; and $171 million for child protection.

To view the Croakey article in full click here.

3 empty Jim Beam bottles, one squashed can etc on side of red dirt road

Image source: ABC News website.

What’s app-ening with your lungs?

Learning about healthy lungs has just become a lot easier for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and health practitioners thanks to an expanded interactive app. The app, produced by the Menzies School of Health Research’s (Menzies) Child Health Division, uses interactive images, audio and quizzes to teach people about various conditions affecting the lungs and is available in eight different languages used in northern and central Australia. Originally released in 2020 with a focus on asthma, the app has been expanded to include other common childhood lung conditions such as bronchiolitis, pneumonia and bronchiectasis.

In Australia, the burden of ill health from acute and chronic lung diseases remains high among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Health education that is culturally appropriate is important to reduce language and context barriers to health equity. Menzies senior research fellow and project lead Dr Gabrielle McCallum says that the expanded app is an innovative way to help people access important health information about common lung conditions in their home and at their own pace. “The team evaluated the app with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers and found that knowledge of lung health significantly improved after using the app, particularly how lung conditions are treated,” Dr McCallum said. “Health care professionals also described the app as an innovative and effective method of providing lung education to culturally and linguistically diverse groups.”

To view the Lung Foundation Australia and Menzies School of Health Research media release in full click here.

Aboriginal mother's face looking over the shoulder of her child holding iPhone

Image source: National Indigenous Television (NITV) website.

Monsoon rains increase melioidosis risk

Recent monsoonal rains in the Top End have increased the threat of the potentially deadly disease, Melioidosis. There are between 40 and 90 cases of the soil-borne disease reported in the NT each year with the majority diagnosed across the Wet Season between October and May. Dr Vicki Krause, Director of Disease Control and Environmental Health, Top End Health Service said recent heavy rains and the monsoonal weather expected in the coming weeks increased the risk of the disease. “In past years around 10 per cent of infections have been fatal, even with the best medical care. Last season there were 45 cases of Melioidosis and one death in the NT,” she said.

To view the NT Government’s media release in full click here.

bare feet walking across soil

Image source: NT News.

Time to revamp Medicare for 21st Century

The most exhaustive inquiry into the mechanics of Medicare in its 36 years makes a compelling case for extensive reforms that must be commenced now if Australians are to retain access to best available 21st Century health care, according to the Consumers Health Forum (CHF). The Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Taskforce has reviewed more than 5,700 Medicare items and made more than 1,400 recommendations “to strengthen, modernise and protect Australia’s world class health system”.  Its final report states it has identified numerous opportunities to improve health outcomes for all Australians into the future.

“CHF welcomes this deep and detailed report An MBS for the 21st Century and its advocacy of consumer-centred health care,” the CEO of CHF, Leanne Wells, said today. “The 1980s Medicare model is being rapidly overtaken by the huge shifts in health care and the escalation of chronic conditions and this report shows why the Government and providers must change in areas such as remuneration to meet consumer needs and make the most of modern medicine.

To view CHF’s media release in full click here.

5 Medicare cards

Image source: Medical Business Services website.

Kimberley women’s antenatal care experiences

The second paper from the Nini Helthiwan Project looking at Kimberley women’s antenatal care experiences Aboriginal women’s experiences of strengths and challenges of antenatal care in the Kimberley: A qualitative study has been published. While the Australian pregnancy care guidelines note the importance of culturally safe care, this is not always assured for Aboriginal women. Studies exploring Aboriginal women’s antenatal care experiences in various locations have identified local strengths and priority areas.

Throughout the Kimberley, 124 Aboriginal women who had accessed antenatal care in 2015–2018 provided qualitative data during the Nini health assessment or standalone interview with an Aboriginal researcher. Most women expressed that overall they had a positive antenatal care experience. Key themes were. The experiences shared by these Kimberley women add to evidence from other parts of Australia, showing a need to improve culturally safe antenatal care for all Aboriginal women. This includes having more local Aboriginal antenatal care providers. There also needs to be more support for the large number of women and their families who need to travel for care.

To view a summary of the project click here. You can access the paper, including a plain language version, via the KAMS research website.

Aboriginal woman;s hands cradling pregnant belly painted with image of baby turtle in the sea

Image source: #LoveBroome.

AMSANT calls Darwin CBD quarantine ‘ludicrous’ 

More than 80 foreign military personnel and their family members staying at a Darwin CBD hotel are being released from quarantine over the next two days, despite concerns from an Aboriginal health group that genomic sequencing on two positive coronavirus cases detected at the hotel last week is yet to be made public. Last Wednesday, a foreign military official and the partner of another official tested positive to COVID-19 at the Darwin Travelodge, where up to 300 foreign military staff and their families were given approval by the NT’s Chief Health Officer to quarantine for 14 days. The decision to allow the cohort to stay at the inner-city hotel, rather than at the government-managed Howard Springs quarantine facility, which is considered Australia’s ‘gold-standard’ for infection control, has previously been labelled as inexplicable..

Earlier this week Associate Professor John Boffa, a spokesperson for the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT), said it would be a serious mistake to release any of the foreign military personnel before health authorities know which variant of the virus had been recorded within the Travelodge. Dr Boffa added his voice to the growing chorus of criticism from organisations like Danila Dilba and the NT Branch of the Australian Medical Association regarding military personnel quarantining in a CBD hotel rather than Howard Springs. “It’s ludicrous, it makes no sense that this exemption is given. It’s the position of AMSANT and other leading Aboriginal organisations in the NT that this is not good enough,” he said.

To view the article in full click here.

external view of Travelodge Hotels Darwin, front gate closing, Australian soldier standing guard

Image source: ABC News website.

Ways to contain COVID-19 faster

The level of vaccination uptake will be the most important factor in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new position paper by an international consortium of scientists which compared COVID-19 vaccination strategies. The position paper – authored by scientists and health experts from the University of Sydney’s Centre for Complex Systems and the Faculty of Medicine and Health in collaboration with scientists and epidemiologists from India and Europe – emphasises that, given the limited availability of vaccines at the initial stage of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, effective prioritisation and optimal use of vaccination resources will be crucial to contain the pandemic in the near future. “It is not desirable to expose a significant portion of the population to the pathogen in order to acquire herd immunity,” said lead author, Dr Mahendra Piraveenan, who is a senior lecturer in complex systems in the Faculty of Engineering.

To view the University of Sydney’s media release in full click here.

pink and white mini figures with arrows reaching our from central red figure to demonstrate COVID-19 spreading

Image source: MIT News.

Where are all the public health workers?

Significant gaps in the size, training, structure and credentialing of the public health workforce have been exposed as a result of the demands generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This problem has been highlighted by the need to scale up to levels of activity never previously required by a communicable disease outbreak in Australia. However, the demands on the nation’s public health workforce go beyond the management of a communicable disease outbreak alone. With the heavy and growing burden of preventable Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), workforce shortages are perhaps less urgent but just as real. Government capacity should be adjusted in line with this increasing threat and disease burden.

There is a broad scope of practice in public health, from epidemiologists and biostatisticians, through to contact tracers, community health promoters, transmissible disease experts, health economists, environmental health, nutrition and food safety workers, Aboriginal Health Workers, nurses, physicians, policy analysts, policy makers and more. A clearly agreed definition of those to include and exclude remains difficult. One size will not fit all in terms of training needs, employment options and support. There will also be differing demands depending on the extent of workforce and skills shortages.

Current best estimates suggest that about 80 per cent of the public health workforce is employed by government, academia and the not-for-profit sector. What little data we have suggests that the rate of growth of public health professionals currently in the workforce is very low to zero. Certainly, the growth rate of the public health workforce is behind that of most other health professions, and indeed most other professions generally.

To view the full Croakey article click here.

two small Aboriginal boys in traditional dress, one having heart checked & the other having his ear checked by health professionals

Image source: General Practice Training Queensland.

Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) Report

The recently released Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices): Securing our Rights, Securing our Future 2020 Report holds the voices and stories of over 2,000 First Nations women and girls of all ages, from all across Australia, belonging to hundreds of different ancestral countries. The report carries their incredible strengths, unyielding determination and diverse lived realities. This is not a report for the shelves, it is a landmark report that puts a First Nations female-led plan for change on the table.

To access the report in full click here.cover of 2020 Australia Human Rights Commission Wiyi Yani U Thangani report

Long term Kakadu cancer cluster studies needed 

Aboriginal medical groups are calling on the NT and Federal Governments to fund long term studies into the causes of a cancer cluster and high fetal death rates in the vicinity of the now defunct Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu. A Health Department study into the cancer cluster couldn’t reach any firm conclusions. The groups also want a similar monitoring program extended to other Aboriginal communities near major mines.

An ABC News PM report with Linda Mottram includes comments from John Paterson, Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance CEO, Dr Michael Fonda, Public Health Association of Australia, Justin O’Brien, Gunjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation CEO and Dr Hugh Heggie, NT Chief Health Officer.

To listen to the ABC News PM news report click here.

Aboriginal minor leaning on wire fence looking down into open cut mine

Image source: ABC News website.

NT – Darwin – Danila Dilba Health Service

Danila Dilba Health Service (DDHS) is going through a dynamic period of expansion and growth and in order to meet increasing client need, DDHS is looking to fill several vacancies within the operations area. The roles are at the core of DDHS’ services and are critical in ensuring delivery of culturally safe, comprehensive primary health care services.

As part of the DDHS team you’ll contribute to improving the health and wellbeing of Indigenous Australians and be provided with great learning opportunities, given the chance to grow your skills and progress your career.

You’ll IMPACT the community, helping close the gap in Indigenous healthcare and wellbeing, one helping hand at a time.
You’ll be PROUD, both of the work you do and who you work for.
You’ll work with a TEAM, alongside people who are down to earth and truly dedicated to what we do.
You’ll EXPERIENCE and learn something new every day through the variety of your role.
You’ll embrace the OPPORTUNITY to progress your career – follow your path at Danila Dilba.

Head of ICT x 1 FT (Fixed Term) – Darwin

Clinic Team Leader x 1 FT – Bagot Clinic – Darwin

General Practitioner (After Hours) x 1 PT – After-Hours Malak Clinic – Darwin

Medical Receptionist x 1 PT (after hours and weekend) – After-Hours Malak Clinic – Darwin

NDIS Support Worker x 1 FT (Fixed Term) – Darwin

Finance and Contract Officer x 1 FT – Darwin

Dentist x 1 PT (Fixed Term) – Palmerston – Darwin

Indigenous Outreach Worker x 1 FT – Rapid Creek Clinic – Darwin

To view position descriptions and to apply click here. Applications close 1 February 2021.Danila Dilba Health Service logo - turtle, snake with two fish brown, black, white & yellow