NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Environmental experts share advice

The image in the feature tile is from the Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities (AMRRIC) website.

Environmental health experts share advice

The impact of climate change upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities was in the spotlight recently at the 13th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Environmental Health Conference. Attended by over 170 delegates from most Australian states and territories, the conference, held on Larrakia Country in Darwin, also heard calls for the establishment of a National Environmental Health First Nations Expert Group.

The conference provided a platform for hearing from a variety of environmental health practitioners from across Australia, highlighting the programs and activities being undertaken and the challenges faced. Among the presenters was CEO of One Disease Team Michelle Dowden, whose  presentation A “Mitey” Task Made Easier By Working Together looked at the social determinants of health and the need for a strength based approach to underpin the its aim to achieve scabies free communities and households. Other presenters included Chicky Clements, an environmental health worker for Nirrumbuk Aboriginal Corporation, who asked why after 13 national conferences over 26 years, action to consolidate a national environmental health workforce had not progressed and first time presenters from Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation who spoke about their important work in remote communities.

A wide range of topics were covered at the conference, including: the links to environmental health and the prevention of rheumatic heart disease and trachoma; WHO statistics showing 25% of the health burden is due to environmental health conditions; all wetlands in the NT being at risk of Japanese Encephalitis; the post border, active surveillance early detection biosecurity community dog and cat health project which results in an animal census for local decision making; the environmental health response to 2022 floods which included ensuring potable water, reopening flooded food businesses and managing waste; the need to incorporate traditional knowledge into water guidelines; the COVID-19 response; an overcrowding study; the cost of hospitalisation attributable to environmental health conditions; animal management; the impacts of climate change; and mosquito borne diseases.

To view the Croakey Health Media article Putting the spotlight on environmental health expertise and challenges in full click here.

Lived experience of addiction voices essential

Hundreds of people gathered in Canberra this week for a conference that flipped the usual proceedings and power dynamics. Too often people experiencing or affected by health issues are on the sidelines, in the background or completely missing in major health gatherings. But people with lived experience of addictions took centre-stage at this week’s inaugural Rethink Addiction convention, titled ‘It’s time to change the conversation’.

They were not just token voices on panels stacked with ‘experts’ as seen at many conferences, but the main voices in session after session of the two-day event, their expertise, knowledge and experiences privileged and valued. In heart-breaking detail, they told raw and powerful stories about addictions to alcohol, other drugs, and gambling which took many to the brink, facing suicide, prison, financial ruin, the removal of children or – in the case of Australian of the Year Local Hero Shanna Whan – waking up in Emergency after falling down a concrete flight of stairs.

As well as showcasing their courage, strength and commitment to others, they took strong aim at the structural barriers they have faced in their recovery, including government, industry and media, and a fragmented and flawed health system. Among the audience were health and service professionals, academics, policy makers and researchers – there to listen and put up their hands to ask the questions.

To view the Croakey Health Media article Privileging the voices of people with lived experiences of addiction in full click here.

Building our mental health workforce

The Andrews Labor Government is building a mental health workforce that provides culturally safe and inclusive care by supporting traineeships and scholarships for Aboriginal people who want to work in the sector. The Government has invested $5.6 million over five years to support the Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Scholarships Program – providing training courses and professional development opportunities for Aboriginal people who wish to work in the mental health sector.

The program provided more than a dozen scholarships for students attending RMIT and Deakin Universities in semester one this year. Providing the best quality education and training for Victoria’s mental health workforce ensures the best quality care for all Victorians with mental illness. Building on the transition from study to work, the Government has also provided more than $7 million since 2017 for the Aboriginal Mental Health Traineeship Program – a specialist course that provides workplace training, while trainees complete placements and mental health qualifications.

The program also allows our mental health services to learn from trainees about Aboriginal culture and gain knowledge and perspective, so they can develop more holistic and well-informed supports and care programs for all Victorians. The first graduates are now working in an ongoing role with the health service where they undertook their traineeship or as an Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing worker in a local Aboriginal community-controlled health organisation.

To view the medianet article Building Our Aboriginal Mental Health Workforce in full click here.

Suicide prevention consultation in Balgo community. (L to R)Brian Darkie Junior (Community Liaison Officer Balgo), Vicki McKenna (Suicide Prevention Coordinator), Desmond Stretch, Daniel Rockman, Darren Brown, Justin Mosquito, Nathaniel Stretch, Larissa Mudgedell. Photo supplied by KAMS. Image source: National Indigenous Times.

Calls for urgent action on detention protocol

The death this week of another Indigenous man in custody in Victoria, the third such life lost in the state’s prisons in the last 12 months, has renewed focus on Australia’s disproportionate incarceration rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. With over 500 deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) will use an upcoming submission to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) to call out Australia’s slow implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), to establish a system of unannounced visits to places of detention.

VALS condemns the lack of action on implementing the recommendations of 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) and calls for OPCAT to be implemented in Victoria. “The urgent need to implement OPCAT in Victoria has been identified by the Victorian Ombudsman, which carried out two OPCAT style investigations in custodial facilities in 2017 and 2019,” the submission reads. The submission described the Victorian Government’s response as woefully inadequate and expressed concern that this once in a generation opportunity to prevent torture and inhumane treatment in detention is being squandered.

To view the Croakey Health Media article Clock is ticking for Australian governments to address human rights concerns around places of detention in full click here.

Image source: Sydney Criminal Lawyers.

In a related ABC News broadcast Why are Aboriginal deaths in custody still happening in Victoria? Jill Gallagher, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, spoke with Amber Irving-Guthrie. You can listen to the interview in full using this link.

Heal Our Way suicide prevention

Heal Our Way is a NSW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Campaign funded by the NSW Ministry of Health under Towards Zero Suicides (TZS) initiatives. Led by Cox Inall Ridgeway in partnership with Aboriginal communities in NSW, health leaders and people who have lived experience of suicide, the campaign aims to provide practical resources to community members to equip them with the skills to have safe conversations around suicide.

Uncle George Ellis has been shared as part of the Heal Our Way campaign. Uncle George Ellis is a descendant of Kinchela Boys Home. He is a Gomeroi and Likaparta man who now lives in the Northern Rivers of NSW. He said “What we’ve done with Heal Our Way, which is what we need to keep doing, is to put these kinds of stories at the centre of our conversations about suicide. They are stories of strength, sadness, resilience, hurt and hope – but they important because they are real. They also bring us together because they are shared experiences in our communities and that way, we can address them as a community.

To access the Croakey Health Media article Heal Our Way: supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have safe conversations around suicide prevention in full click here.

Uncle George Ellis. Image source: Croakey Health Media.

Supporting mob with Musculoskeletal conditions

Despite national, state and local campaigns to Close the Gap in Australia, considerable health gaps still exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Musculoskeletal conditions are an area of health where there is a significant difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Although Indigenous people experience musculoskeletal conditions more. their access to high-quality and culturally informed support remains low.

Musculoskeletal conditions can have a considerable effect on people’s lives. Such conditions can affect a person’s ability to walk, complete simple tasks at home without help, and participate in sports or work. Government health organisations need to provide better support for Indigenous people suffering from these conditions by encouraging culturally safe community-based care.

Internationally, low back pain is the leading cause of disability, and osteoarthritis is the leading cause of physical activity limitiation. Both of these ailments are more common in Indigenous people, who are 20–50% more likely to have osteoarthritis and 10% more likely to report current back pain than the non-Indigenous population in Australia. Musculoskeletal conditions have also been shown to contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. With 46% of Australia’s Indigenous population having at least one chronic condition, this may lead to even higher rates of chronic diseases.

To view The Conversation How do we support Indigenous people in Australia living with musculoskeletal conditions? in full click here.

Photo: Shutterstock. Image source: The Conversation.

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