NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: 30 years dedicated to closing the health gap

Associate Professor reflects on work in ATSI health - achievements & work to do' & image of Associate Professor Dr Sophia Couzos

30 years dedicated to closing the health gap

After 30 years of working within the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS) sector, JCU Associate Professor in General Practice and Rural Medicine, Dr Sophia Couzos, reflects on the milestones that have been achieved for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, as well as the work that is still yet to be done.

Despite originally hailing from Melbourne, a passion for rural and remote health emerged early in Sophia’s career as a GP. “After first completing a degree in microbiology and working in that field, I decided to pursue medicine and finished my medical degree in Melbourne in 1987. In those days there was absolutely no training about the health of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders, nor in health systems science. The training was all biomedical and as students, we did all of our clinical rotations in large city hospitals.”

“I first became interested in the health of Aboriginal peoples when I was working as a microbiologist at the Western [General] Hospital in Victoria and was curious about infectious diseases associated with socioeconomic disadvantage. Infection rates were presenting much higher for Aboriginal population groups, but there was very little attention being paid to the causes of these issues.”

“After graduating from medicine, I wanted to pursue a rural and remote health career pathway and so after being trained in the [now defunct] Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, Royal Melbourne Hospital, and Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, I spent time in rural Victoria gaining obstetric, neonatal, and general practice experience before heading to the Kimberley region of WA.”

To read the James Cook University article in full click here.

7 people including Pat Turner & Dr Couzos at launch of RACGP National Guide to a Preventative Health Assessment for ATSI people

Dr Sophia Couzos (far right) at the 2018 launch of the RACGP’s National Guide to a Preventive Health Assessment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Image source: JCU website.

Mental health presentations in Kimberley

A recently published manuscript Exploring Mental Health Presentations in Remote Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia Using an Audit and File Reviews looks at the role of remote Kimberley Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) in proving mental health care to patients. The work, produced under the guidance of Professor Pat Dudgeon as part of the Transforming Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing Project explores who and how patients present for care and the care clinics are providing.

Psychosocial factors were frequently identified in relation to a patient’s mental health, suicide or self-harming (suicide refers to ideations or attempts, not actual or complete). Most frequently documented were, documented family violence (including intimate partner violence), drug and alcohol use, and insufficient housing. All file reviews showed evidence of either a situational crisis response and/or an ongoing medication management plan. Most files demonstrated ongoing clinic engagement in relation to a patients’ mental health/distress. There was limited evidence of specialist or therapeutic supports involved in patient care. The notable exception to this was that the Kimberley Mental Health and Drug Service was found to have a strong shared care role with the ACCHS for patients with low prevalence disorders such as schizophrenia

Mental ill health and psychological distress were a prominent clinical presentation. In remote environments where there are limited other supports and service providers, ACCHS are central in providing care and support. Work can (and is being done) to ensure a culturally secure, mental health-informed model of care is implemented across the ACCHS to enhance patients’ recovery and wellness.

To view the manuscript here and a plain statement summary version click here.

youth with head in hand

Photo: Tom Forrest, ABC Kimberley. Image source: ABC News website.

New COVID-19 antiviral information for GPs

Nirmatrelvir in combination with ritanovir (sold as Paxlovid) and molnupiravir (sold as Lagevrio) will soon be available in Australia for the treatment of COVID-19. However, according to the Department of Health (DoH), initial supplies will be limited due to international supply chain constraints and will therefore be prioritised to highest clinical need.

The initial supplies of COVID-19 antiviral oral treatments … will be made available through the National Medical Stockpile [NMS], as occurs with the current treatments, to ensure the most vulnerable Australians can access them as soon as possible. In addition, this includes delivering treatments of Lagevrio directly to residential aged care facilities [RACFs], as these are oral treatments designed to be taken by those not in hospital. Additional supplies [can] be requested from the National Medical Stockpile as required.

To view the RACGP newsGP article in full click here.

2 images - two red capsules & pharmaceutical factory production line

Initial supplies of COVID-19 antiviral oral treatments will be available through the National Medical Stockpile. Image source: newsGP website.

AHTV increases health literacy

A new independent evaluation of the Aboriginal Health Television (AHTV) network which broadcasts in the waiting rooms of Aboriginal Medical Services (ACCHOs) across Australia investigated whether the content on AHTV made a difference to people’s understanding of health and wellbeing (health literacy), the effectiveness of the messaging and the cultural appropriateness and safety of the network’s content. Most people attending Aboriginal Medical Services (AMS) said the information AHTV provides is useful to increase their health literacy. They also said it was contributing to better health outcomes.

AHTV’s partnerships and community relationships manager, Jake Thomson – a Wiradjuri man, – said, “We know these screens are having a positive impact in the community and getting attention at a vital time, in a culturally safe way. Recently, we have been very active in using the power of the Aboriginal Health TV network to help increase the uptake of COVID vaccines. And, personally speaking, our network has been instrumental in helping my community understand the importance of not only the COVID vaccine but our overall wellbeing.

“Health is a crucial part of every one’s life and by building a bridge with common language, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will feel a sense of inclusion and belonging.” The results showed a strong correlation between AHTV’s health literacy programs screening at AMSs and improvements in health outcomes in both urban and hard-to-reach rural communities.

To view the B&T article in full click here.logo black font text 'Aboriginal Health Television A tonic Health Media Channel' & circle of 12 different coloured dots

Indigenous Youth Connection to Culture

A new program will support nine Indigenous communities across the Australia to engage Indigenous young people and help them build stronger connections to their families, Elders and culture. Stage one of the Indigenous Youth Connection to Culture (IYCC) program will operate in Nhulunbuy, Numbulwar, and Alice Springs in the NT; Mareeba, Doomadgee and Cherbourg in Queensland; Perth (Gosnells) and Geraldton in WA; and Kempsey in NSW, at a combined investment of $3.6 million.

Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Ken Wyatt AM, MP, said the IYCC program has been co-designed with communities to increase activity engagement, improve mental health and reduce the risk of suicide of young Indigenous people by reconnecting them with their traditional culture.

To view Minister Wyatt’s media release in full click here.

group of at-risk Aboriginal girls from Geraldton being shown around Big Lagoon, Shark Bay

At-risk Yamatji girls from Geraldton, Big Lagoon, Shark Bay. Photo: Chris Lewis, ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt. Image source: ABC News website.

Cancer battler aims to close healthcare gap

Fred Conway is a grandfather to more than 70 children, a proud Bidjara and Barada elder, and a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) recipient – but “wretched cancer” does not discriminate. “I’m determined not to cark it as yet,” he said. Two years ago, when he was 75, Uncle Fred noticed a blemish on his cheek. “I thought it was a pimple,” he said. “Eventually it got to the size of my thumbnail, so I went and got it checked out.”

A diagnosis for head and neck cancer followed. Uncle Fred underwent lengthy surgery to remove the cancer, then spent eight months receiving radiation treatment in Brisbane, 540 kilometres south of his central Queensland home. “They operated on me,” he said. “It ended up being 23 and a half hours of it.” But in 2021, the cancer returned. “I love my life, my wife, my family — I get a bit irritated from the treatment at times, but we’ve got to pull ourselves together,” Uncle Fred said.

2020 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found cancer was the leading cause of death among Indigenous Australians, accounting for 23% in 2014–2018. Uncle Fred, now 77, is determined to make access to healthcare easier for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

To view the ABC News article in full click here.

close up photo of skin grafts on Uncle Fred Conway's face

Uncle Fred had skin taken from his leg and put on his face during the surgery. Photo: Erin Semmler, ABC Capricornia. Image source: ABC News website.

Five researchers win science award

Five promising researchers from universities around Australia are the 2022 recipients of the Australian Academy of Science Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scientist Award.

The award recognises research in the physical and biological sciences, allowing interdisciplinary and sociocultural research that could straddle the social sciences and humanities, by outstanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander PhD students and early- and mid-career scientists.

To view the Australian Academy of Science article in full click here.

Dr Jordan Pitt, Tamara Riley, Vanessa Sewell, Dr Keane Wheeler &Luke Williams

From left: Dr Jordan Pitt, Tamara Riley, Vanessa Sewell, Dr Keane Wheeler and Luke Williams. Image source: Australian Academy of Science 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.

Ochre Ribbon Week

Ochre Ribbon Week raises awareness of the impacts of domestic and family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Ochre Ribbon Week is an Indigenous-led campaign from 12 to 19 February and supported by the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience disproportionally high levels of violence compared to non-Indigenous women, and violence is often more severe in its impact on families:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence than non-Indigenous Australians,
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 3.4 times more likely to experience sexual assault, and
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 11 times more likely to die due to assault.

Discrimination, racism and intergenerational trauma are significant drivers of the violence experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. These drivers are exacerbated by factors including alcohol and substance abuse, mental ill-health, inadequate housing and overcrowding, unemployment and poor access to culturally competent services. Breaking this cycle of violence requires community-driven, trauma‑informed approaches to family violence that prioritise cultural healing, family restoration and the strength of Indigenous families. Solutions must support frontline and prevention services, as well as the structural drivers of violence.

For further information about Ochre Ribbon Week click here.

banner text '12-19 February Ochre Ribbon Week - Ending family violence in Aboriginal communities - don't silence the violence

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