NACCHO Aboriginal Health News: Getting jabs to rural and remote communities

tile text 'ACCHOs finds ways to bring COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable rural and remote communities' & image of front of 4-wheel drive on outback red dirt road

*Image source in feature tile, The Conversation.

Getting jabs to rural and remote communities

NACCHO Chair, Donnella Mills says Covid-19 vaccination is a key priority. There 143 Aboriginal community controlled health organisations with more than 500 clinics currently trying to get jabs in arms with the help of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Covid has cut a devastating swathe through the Navajo and Amazonian Indigenous people. “When I think of the devastation in other first nations, that footprint, that traditional passage of law, language, culture and custom, it just stops,” Ms Mills said. “So it is why we must, if we have questions, go to your doctor. We have to protect our longevity in the country, 60,000 years and we must keep going strong.”

And getting vaccination rates up in far flung communities is vital. Some of the lowest rates are in WA northern region with only 10.86 fully vaccinated and 21.29% fully vaccinated. Rates across all Indigenous communities are lower than all other groups across the board.

But some communities are doing exceptionally well. “Shout out to NT mob Maningreda they did over 65% of their population over four days and in the Kimberleys, they’ve had two pop up vaccination clinics and they have done in excess of 250 vaccinations each day. We have to get as close of possible to 100% because of the fact we have 2.3 times the burden of disease than non-Indigenous Australians,” she said. “Some of our services have been doing door to door if we identify there may be an elder that can’t get to a clinic. We are reaching out and finding ways of bringing the vaccine to them.” Ms Mills said.

Donnella Mills NACCHO Chair with nurses Melinda Pascoe (left), and Catherine Moro (right)

Donnella Mills NACCHO Chair with nurses Melinda Pascoe (left), and Catherine Moro (right). Image supplied.

Another hurdle has been vaccine hesitancy, and the anti-vaccine movement has targeted the Indigenous population with scare tactics. “It has been so challenging, there has been such a direct intentional move to put this anti-vax narrative out there and what we’ve had to do is face that front on and make sure we keep communicating with all of our mob and identifying leaders in the community encourage them to keep coming to speak to us,” Ms Mills said.

This news story has been released by News Corp Media and released in The Telegraph and The Advertiser.

CAAC vax efforts applauded

The Burnet Institute, whose mission is to achieve better health for vulnerable communities in Australia and internationally by accelerating the translation of research, discovery and evidence into sustainable health solutions, has affirmed their support for the efforts of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (Congress) to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities from the Delta variant of the SARS-Cov-2 virus.

The Burnet Institute says the leadership of community-controlled services like Congress has helped keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities safe during the first and second waves of COVID-19 during 2020 and the success of that control effort was driven in no small part by the self-determining and community-led responses that should underpin the delivery of all health services to Indigenous communities.

A just published paper co-authored by Burnet colleague Troy Combo offers some interesting insights into the response to the pandemic by Indigenous communities in Brisbane.

Burnet’s consistent message to the public has been to ‘leave no one behind’. They note the low vaccination coverage among Indigenous Australians in most states and territories and the demonstrated vulnerability of communities in Western NSW to the severe impacts of Delta infections. The outbreaks in the West and Far West local health districts of NSW could be repeated in other areas of Australia unless Indigenous communities are protected by high vaccination rates and other public health measures.

To view the full article click here.

Lilly Watson and Montanna Hudson at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Yeperenye shopping centre in Alice Springs

Congress employees Lilly Watson and Montanna Hudson at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Yeperenye shopping centre in Alice Springs. Image source: ABC News website.

Remote AMSs mobilise rapid testing drives

As COVID arrived in remote areas of the Western NSW Local Health District (LHD), health workers on the ground mobilised testing and outreach services in a matter of hours. While the LHD set up makeshift testing facilities that would service the droves that followed, Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) acting chief executive Katrina Ward sent out staff to collect swabs from close contacts to be processed back at the clinic.

“It just gave that speed of results because otherwise you were waiting a good 12 hours before it got back to Dubbo [pathology],” she said. “At one stage my staff worked until midnight trying to get through the close contact tests just to alleviate a lot of the fear and anxiety off the community.”

Remote health clinics like the Walgett AMS were given access to a rapid PCR testing device called GeneXpert. Each machine can test four swabs at a time and produce results in about 45 minutes — much faster than the tests taken at hospitals and pop-up clinics, which are sent to pathology labs. The technology is part of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander COVID-19 Point-of-Care Testing Program, a federally funded initiative managed by the Kirby Institute in partnership with Flinders University.

To view the ABC News article in full click here.

close up photo of rapid covid-19 tests

Image source: ABC News.

School exclusion further harms vulnerable

Increasing numbers of students are being excluded from Australian schools. This is done both temporarily, through informal and formal suspensions, and permanently, through expelling them and cancelling their enrolments.

Publicly available data in NSW, SA and Queensland shows these exclusions begin in the first year of school when children can be as young as four years old. Informal exclusions are more common at this stage and usually occur in the form of a phone call requesting parents “take home” their child.

But because exclusionary discipline does not address the issues underlying childrens’ behaviour — and can reinforce it — short informal exclusions quickly progress to longer, formal suspensions. And because suspension still doesn’t solve the problem, one suspension can become many.

Four in five students suspended more than five times have a disability. Along with students with a disability, Indigenous students and those living in out-of-home care are also massively overrepresented in suspension and exclusion statistics. These are not distinct groups. It is possible to be Indigenous, have a disability and be living in care.

To view The Conversation article in full click here.

rear view of youth with blue hoodie facing brick wall with graffiti

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Concerns for long-term mental health

Psychologists are concerned about anxiety and depression becoming long-term problems due to the pandemic, with the worst effects felt by the young and the vulnerable.

Professor Richard Bryant, of UNSW Sydney’s school of psychology, an expert on post-traumatic stress and anxiety believes the effects of continuing lockdowns and uncertainty are cumulative. “We know from previous experience that people are able to manage certain stressors for a time, but after a while they start to erode our resources.”

Research shows adults are adaptive. But what happens in kids is different, because they’re not adapting. Instead, they’re maintaining higher and higher levels of distress as time goes on.”

The mental health of Indigenous Australians has also been negatively affected. Professor Pat Dudgeon, a Bardi woman and director of the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention at the University of WA, says the pandemic has amplified existing vulnerabilities and inequities, compounding the already extremely high rates of mental illness and psychological distress among Indigenous Australians. She also points to a series of pressures unique to Indigenous people, in particular the psychological effects of being prevented from carrying out cultural practices, concern about the potential loss of Elders due to infection, and of being unable to visit Country due to lockdowns and border closures.

To view The Saturday Paper in full click here.

hand palm holding white line drawing of brain, outback sunset in background

Image source: The Mandarin.

The most amazing opportunity

“People think general practice is so isolated, but it’s just such a nice cohesive community and the colleagues and friends I’ve made here are just sensational.”

New Fellow Dr Melanie Matthews has had a similar experience in the NT.

It was while spending three months as a junior doctor in Maningrida through the Prevocational General Practice Placements Program (PGPPP) that she decided to apply for AGPT, and says she hasn’t looked back. ‘I just really, really loved it,’ Dr Matthews said. “I decided that it was Aboriginal Health that I wanted to work in, and that the NT was the right place for that.”

Her training program was delivered through NT GP Education (NTGPE), and she says it was ‘very supportive’, with opportunities throughout the year for registrars to come together. ‘I thought it was excellent,’ Dr Matthews said.

Positions for the 2022 AGPT Program’s General and Rural Pathways are still available in NSW, Queensland, SA and the NT.

Applications for the final intake of the 2022 AGPT Program close at 11.59 pm (AEST) –  Tuesday 21 September 2021. More information, including resources to assist with the application process, is available on the RACGP website here.

To view the full article in GPNews click here.

Dr Melanie Matthews sitting at desk at clinic

Dr Melanie Matthews, Mala’la Aboriginal Health Board, Maningrida. Image source: ABC News website.

Aboriginal author wins Stanner Award

A thesis tracking the development of the first truly empowering national study of health and wellbeing in Indigenous Australia (the Mayi Kuwayu National Study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing) has won the 2021 Stanner Award from AIATSIS.

‘Making Cultures Count: Transforming Indigenous Health Data in Australia’ by Sarah Bourke was assessed by a panel of independent judges as the best academic manuscript submitted for this year’s award. The AIATSIS Stanner Award is presented biennially to the best academic manuscript submitted by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander author.

Ms Bourke is a descendant of the Gidja people from the Kimberley region in WA and the Gamilaroi people on the border of NSW and QLD. Her doctoral thesis used an Indigenist research framework to examine the historical, social, and political factors that influenced the development of Mayi Kuwayu and its emphasis on measuring cultural determinants of health.

The Stanner Award acknowledges the significant contribution of the late Emeritus Professor William Edward Hanley (Bill) Stanner to the establishment and development of AIATSIS.

To access the full media release and an interview with Sarah Bourke click here.

tile text '2021 Stanner Awards best academic manuscript by an ATSI author congratulations Sarah Bourke' & portrait photo of Sarah Bourke

Image source: Books+Publishing.

Pregnant prisoners need more care

Research into the health of women and mothers in prison has found a high number of incarcerated Aboriginal women were pregnant, with many giving birth while in prison, according to a study by The University of WA. The paper, published in  Australian and NZ Journal of Public Health, identified the need to provide more opportunities for primary care in the prison system, particularly for Aboriginal women and mothers.

Adjunct Associate Professor Marisa Gilles from UWA’s School of Population and Global Health has researched prisoner health since 2008. Her findings revealed that 30% of incarcerated Aboriginal women had been pregnant while in prison, and 20% had given birth while in prison.

Periods of custody also served as a vital time for providing healthcare to women who may not have been engaged with a GP when living in the community, or who hadn’t had a positive experience with health services prior to incarceration. Dr Gilles’ research showed that one in five Aboriginal mothers in custody had themselves been separated from their families as children by government services. They are typically also young, with 42% aged under 30. Furthermore, 92% of Aboriginal mothers in custody were current tobacco users.

Dr Gilles said the results suggested a strong correlation between inmates’ mental health, alcohol and drug issues, and violence. “It is an area of interest for me, particularly with respect to the high proportion of inmates with alcohol and drug issues, the high prevalence of mental health issues, and the history of violence in the lives of women in prison,” Dr Gilles said. “Not only do prisoners frequently arrive in prison with a number of health problems, they may face higher exposure to some conditions as a result of their incarceration, for example, communicable diseases, mental health issues, and violence.”

To view the article in full click here.

shadowy side image of pregnant woman against prison bars

Image source: University of WA website.

New process for job advertising

NACCHO have introduced a new system for the advertising of job adverts via the NACCHO website and you can find the sector job listings here.

Click here to go to the NACCHO website where you can complete a form with job vacancy details – it will then be approved for posting and go live on the NACCHO website.
dice spelling JOBS resting on keyboard

Let’s CHAT dementia research project

The University of Melbourne’s research project Let’s CHAT (Community Health Approaches To) Dementia in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities aims to increase detection rates of dementia by developing and implementing a best-practice model of care for dementia care with a group of ACCHO partner organisations.

Let’s CHAT Dementia is running a free webinar series with Dementia Training Australia over the coming months. The main target audience is Aboriginal Health Workers / Practitioners, and nurses, allied health and other staff who work in ACCHOs and/or with First Nations patients in primary care. It’s a great opportunity for primary care staff to learn about culturally safe and appropriate best-practice care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with dementia.

A session coming up on 6:00 PM (AEST) – Wednesday 22 September 2021 will focus on detection of cognitive impairment and dementia. It will be run by GP and Adjunct Professor Mark Wenitong from the Kabi Kabi tribal group of South Queensland and Adjunct Professor Edward Strivens, Clinical Director for Older Persons, James Cook University and Cairns and Hinterland Hospital.

You can view a flyer for the webinar here and register here.

female Elder being shown a booklet by a male health professional

Image source: Dementia Training Australia.

‘This Rural Life’ launch

You are invited to join RACGP Rural and RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health from 7.30–8.15 PM (AEDT) – Wednesday 6 October 2021 as they launch the ‘This Rural Life’ photo competition in  webinar from .

This innovative project puts the spotlight on RACGP members across all career stages working in rural or remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health by sharing their incredible stories and experiences to inspire others to consider a career in rural general practice.

You can register for the FREE online webinar here.

6 photos taken by GP Jean-Baptiste Philibert of outback

Jean-Baptiste Philibert’s rural placement inspired him to pursue a career as a rural GP. Image source: GPNews.