NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Sister Scrubs could improve baby outcomes

Image in feature tile is of midwife Mel Briggs, wearing the “Sister Scrubs” to identify herself as Indigenous, Yuin woman Hayley Williams and baby Jaari. Photo: Janie Barrett. Image source: ABC News.

Sister Scrubs could improve baby outcomes

Jaari was Hayley Williams’ third baby, but her first experience working with an Indigenous midwife. Yuin woman Williams, 28, gave birth in Shoalhaven Hospital in Nowra a month ago with the support of midwife Mel Briggs from the Waminda South Coast Women’s Health Clinic. Williams said having an Indigenous midwife meant she felt “relaxed and receptive” to the information being provided, allowing for better communication about issues such as her diagnosis of gestational diabetes.

“I feel like another midwife would be able to build that rapport but with Mel being Indigenous, it was almost instant,” Williams said. “It takes away the formalities – the relationship felt very casual, and I felt very comfortable that she had my best interests at heart.” An initiative called “Huggies Sister Scrubs” will make it easier for mothers to know when they are being cared for by an Indigenous midwife, with the aim to improve better outcomes for Indigenous mothers and babies.

The Sister Scrubs, an initiative of the Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Charitable Fund supported by Huggies, is a special uniform for Indigenous midwives to visually identify themselves, helping engender trust and better communication. Nationwide, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies are twice as likely to die in the first year of their life, according to the Closing the Gap Report 2020. In NSW, the perinatal mortality rate among babies born to First Nations mothers is 47% higher than the rest of the population, based on the Mothers and Babies Report 2020. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has also found First Nations women were three times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth, compared with other women, between 2012 and 2019.

To view The Sydney Morning Herald article ‘Sister Scrubs’: How new uniform could improve outcomes for Indigenous babies in full click here.

Melanie Briggs (left) was the first endorsed Aboriginal midwife in NSW, pictured here with Kady Colman. Image source: Bounty Parents.

Calls for cultural reform in health sector

Growing up in Milingimbi in NE Arnhem Land, Yolngu man Dr Mangatjay McGregor was always drawn to a career in medicine. “From a young age, I felt really in tune with the way people felt and [that] naturally progressed into medicine,” he said. Dr McGregor is a mental health registrar in Melbourne and is believed to be the first Yolngu doctor from the NT.

While the 29-year-old has made great strides in his career, his journey has not come without its challenges. During his time as a junior doctor, he said he experienced bullying and discrimination by senior staff in the workplace. “There are times where [the discrimination] is more overt and in your face, then there are times where it’s a little bit more insidious,” he said. “Often it’s coming from consultants, so they’re specialists or registrars [who] are quite senior — there is that power imbalance.”

The Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA) has described the disproportionately high rates of workplace bullying and discrimination as “unacceptable” and raised concerns that it could drive First Nations trainees out of the profession. “It’s something that most of us have faced when we’ve gone through our own training,” AIDA Vice President Dr Simone Raye said. “We had hoped that things would improve for the future generation.” “It’s very concerning because senior staff can actually set the tone for the culture of the organisation that they’re working within.

To view the ABC News article Indigenous doctors call for cultural reform in health sector to address workplace discrimination in full click here and to watch a short video of Dr Mangatjay McGregor speaking about how he faced bullying and discrimination by senior staff during his time as a trainee doctor click here.

Dr Mangatjay McGregor. Photo supplied by: Peter Healy. Image source: ABC News.

Improved social determinants data needed

An article published in The Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) today looks at why Australia needs better data on health inequities. The article says the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) pandemic shone a light on longstanding inequities in societies. Yet, too often, these inequities are effectively invisible, and we can only know if we are tackling them if we can measure them. A lack of appropriate data is an important reason why research that has helped our understanding of health inequities is unevenly distributed internationally, with much concentrated in Europe and North America. Although Australia has some leading global centres for population health research, a lack of appropriate data creates a barrier to undertaking such research here. However, the available evidence indicates that socio‐economic health inequities have increased since the 1980s.

A better understanding of what is happening is important for many reasons, not least the law of unintended consequences; policies designed to improve overall health can inadvertently widen health inequities. It is only by understanding the scale and nature of existing inequities and differential impacts of responses to them that we can assess the effect of policies and monitor progress. Improved data collection and analysis is the first essential step to building back fairer from the impacts of COVID‐19.

To view MJA article The need for improved Australian data on social determinants of health inequities in full click here.

Social determinants of health. Image source: PWC.

Major parties lack rural health commitment

The National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) have issue a media release pointing out that recent media reports have focused on the major parties’ lack of serious commitment to addressing the rural health crisis. The reports have highlighted the real-life implications for people struggling to access health care and the devastating consequences for communities. The Alliance emphasised that rural Australians are still waiting for any major party to address the glaring gap in election commitments to date and is calling on all political parties to commit to bold and immediate initiatives to address the rural health crisis now.

The Alliance is calling on political parties to recognise the critical needs of rural Australians and commit to addressing the rural health crisis immediately. The Alliance is promoting a model of rural primary care called RACCHOs (Rural Area Community Controlled Health Organisations) modelled on and complementing the successful and long-standing ACCHO (Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation) model of primary care delivery.

You can view the Alliance’s media release Rural Australia can’t wait any longer for action on health care in full here.

Image source: The Medical Journal of Australia.

A related ABC News article Doctor availability in regional Australia limited by declining workforce describes how Mount Gambier residents are waiting two or three weeks to visit their regular GP as a result of a shortfall that has failed to gain traction in federal election campaigning. It is an ongoing issue regional and rural Australians have been facing for more than a decade, with COVID placing additional pressures on an already overstretched workforce.

Despite this, Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Megan Belot said there had been almost “total silence” on rural health issues throughout the federal election campaign. “So far this election we have seen the Coalition budget initiative of more rural medical students and Labor promise more money for psychiatric telehealth appointments,” she said. “I’m sorry but that is just not enough. We need initiatives that will deliver doctors on the ground in the near future in addition to rural doctor training pathways and positions after they complete their university studies.”

To view the article in full click here.

Image source: Health Times.

Portable ultrasounds for more equitable health

Imagine if family doctors, nurses, technicians could use handheld ultrasound devices to screen for everything from hip dysplasia to wrist fractures to heart disease from anywhere. A new approach to scans developed at the University of Alberta pairs the accessibility of portable ultrasound with an artificial intelligence app that can analyse thousands of previous results and provide remote diagnostic support within seconds. The goal is to make access to health care more equitable and improve outcomes for patients, said project lead Jacob Jaremko, a radiologist, associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry and Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Artificial Intelligence (CIFAR) Chair at the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute. “It really is a whole different model of care,” Jaremko said. “You’re taking expertise learned from the experts in the hospital and delivering it to the patients, rather than having the patients come to the hospital.”

It will help improve access to timely medical diagnoses and care, particularly for those living in remote and Indigenous communities. With Jaremko’s system, a non-expert can learn with brief training how to use a portable ultrasound device to scan for thyroid cancer, hip dysplasia in infants, breast cancer, heart and lung problems, and arm fractures. The images are uploaded and the AI app compares them with the results of many previous tests to determine whether there is an abnormality. In the video below Jacob Jaremko explains how his AI-based ultrasound system works and why it could increase access to vital diagnostic support for conditions like hip dysplasia.

To view the University of Alberta article Making health care more equitable one ultrasound image at a time – AI-powered portable ultrasound system makes scans and diagnoses accessible from anywhere in full, click here.

First Nations uni students paving the way

In Australia, only 1.9% of university students enrolled in 2018 identified as Indigenous, according to the most recent figures from Universities Australia. And of them, only 47% complete their degrees, compared to 74% of non-Indigenous students. Those figures are improving every year, but it’s clear that more needs to be done to ensure First Nations Australians are given every possible opportunity to go to uni, and to obtain their qualification. There are a multitude of hurdles that First Nations people face when going to university from language barriers, to discrimination to cultural differences obligations.

But, in the NT, where around 30% of the population is Indigenous, Charles Darwin University is on a mission to change the status quo, with a goal of becoming the most recognised university for Australian First Nations training, education and research. Deputy Vice-Chancellor for First Nations Leadership and Yuin/Wandandian and Ngarigo man, Professor Reuben Bolt, said there are a range of fundamental challenges potential Indigenous uni students face.

To view the Northern Beaches Review article Meet the First Nations university students paving the way to a more equal future in full click here.

Nyikina woman Hayley Shields

Nyikina woman Hayley Shields started a Bachelor of Environmental Science last year. Photo: Sarah Matthews. Image source: Northern Beaches Review.

Healthy Ears Clinic marks 10 year milestone

A landmark Victorian health partnership is heralding 10 years of work supporting the health of Indigenous populations. April marked one decade since the union between Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, and the launch of the Healthy Ears Clinic for Indigenous Children. Since 2012, the Ear and Eye Hospital has provided more than 220 ear, nose and throat surgeries, while the Healthy Ears Clinic has care for more than 1500 youths.

Eye and Ear hospital surgeon Stephen O’Leary said the partnership was born from a desire to improve health among Indigenous youth. Since the programs’ launch self-reported hearing problems in Indigenous children have reduced from 11% in 2001 to 6.9% in 2018-19. That rate is, however, still more than twice the rate for non-indigenous children.

Wormi man Kelvin Kong, Australia’s first Indigenous surgeon, said an underlying barriers for Indigenous people to access healthcare remained an issue. “The system is designed poorly – it is unfriendly,” he said. “The system also doesn’t allow us to get the access we need.” Mr Kong said generationally disproportionate health problems could not be solved through biomedical intervention alone, adding structural change was needed. “We need to develop the pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a meaningful and real contribution,” he said.

To view the National Indigenous Times article Victorian Indigenous health services mark 10-year partnership milestone in full click here.

Image source: Macquarie University 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.

World Asthma Day

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that affects the airways, causing them to become inflamed, narrowed, swollen and sometimes blocked by mucus, making it hard to breathe. Common symptoms may include wheezing, felling short of breath, tightness in the chest and coughing. The exact cause of asthma are unknown, however, factors thought to contribute to it occurring include: genetics; exposure to tobacco smoke in the womb, or as a baby or child; air pollution; mouldy houses; being born premature (with a low birth weight) and prolonged intense exercise (occurring over several years).

Asthma is the most common chronic respiratory condition among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and a major cause of morbidity. This may be due to risks such as smoking, as well as a lack of access to culturally appropriate health services and other social and environmental factors.

World Asthma Day (WAD) Tuesday 3 May 2022 is organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma, (GINA), a World Health Organization collaborative organisation founded in 1993.  WAD is held each May to raise awareness of Asthma worldwide. Although asthma cannot be cured, it is possible to manage asthma to reduce and prevent asthma attacks.

GINA has chosen ‘Closing Gaps in Asthma Care’ as the theme for the 2022 World Asthma Day. There are a number of gaps in asthma care, including access to diagnosis and treatment, which require intervention in order to reduce preventable suffering as well as the costs incurred by treating uncontrolled asthma.

For more information on World Asthma Day click here.

banner text 'closing gaps in asthma care World Asthma Day May 3, 2022

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