NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Hearing loss, a key health concern

The image in the feature tile is from a Microsoft News Centre article Hearing Australia dials up user-led innovation to support the HAPEE program in regional and outback communities published on 14 May 2021. The toddler in the image is a participant in the HAPEE program, which aims to improve the identification of ear and hearing problems in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Photo: Hearing Australia.

Hearing loss, a key health concern

Imagine if 43% of the children you knew had hearing loss. If children had burst eardrums, continuous glue ear, or repeated infections you would feel angry, annoyed, in despair, take to social media to demand action, and even write or visit your local MP to make it clear that “something must be done”. There would be inquiries, ministers pledging funding to address this huge number, prime ministers and the health minister would be hosting press conferences, elections could be won or lost on the outcomes of the actions.

Sadly, this 43% is the actual figure for Aboriginal children. One in two children, more in rural and remote communities, are affected by this. Neglected, overlooked, and often far from the mind of most Australians, save for small teams of audiologists and ENTs trying to address this real, life-destroying issue.

The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is widening. New data released by the Federal Government has revealed only four of the 17 targets under the national Closing the Gap agreement are on track to be met in the next decade.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said the results were both “disappointing” and “incredibly disturbing”. Child development is one of the targets in the plan, which the figures show are actually worsening — and hearing loss is a key health concern affecting so many Aboriginal children.

To read The West Australian article Jim Hungerford: Australia’s shameful inaction on Indigenous hearing loss in full click here.

Image source: Menzies School of Health Research.

ACCHO to manage Warruwi clinic

West Arnhem’s Warruwi community has taken control of primary health care in the region. The arrangement will see the Red Lily Health Board assume management of Warruwi Community Health Care, the primary health care clinic in Warruwi. The Red Lily Health board is comprised of representatives from of Warruwi and other First Nations groups, including Minjilang, Gunbalanya, Jabiru and surrounding homelands.

Welcoming the local decision making announcement, Red Lily Health Board chair Reuben Cooper said the structural change to healthcare services in the region was a positive step towards self-determination in West Arnhem. “The transition of Warruwi represents another major step for the people of West Arnhem, in having greater control over their own health and the related services,” he said.

“Red Lily has had great support from the wider ACCHO sector, including from AMSANT, Mala’la, Miwatj and the Katherine West and Sunrise Health Boards.” Mr Cooper said health service reform is necessary throughout other West Arnhem areas. “Work on the transition of the remaining West Arnhem health centres will continue to be a goal for the Board,” he said.

To read the National Indigenous News article Aboriginal healthcare management encourages self-determination in West Arnhem’s Warruwi community in full click here.

Warruwi Community Health Care has become the second West Arnhem healthcare provider to change management, with the Minjilang Primary Health Care Centre also changing to Red Lily management as of July 2021. Photo: Red Lily. Image source: National Indigenous Times.

Increased life expectancy for NT men

A recently published article highlights the improved life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men in the NT over the past 20 years. It reflects consistent and concerted work of countless individuals and organisations that are contributing to the improved health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men in the NT, despite limited resources to do so.

One example of contributing to the positive outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men’s health in the NT is the evolution of the Darwin Men’s Inter‐Agency Network (DMIAN). DMIAN is a network of men from across the government and the non‐government organisation sector collaboratively advocating for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men in Darwin. DMIAN has enabled men’s health researchers to better understand and act on the wants and needs of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men in the community from the perspective that matters most: their own.

There is still a long way to go with improving the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, which sits 15.4 years behind non‐Indigenous men. In addition, as the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men increases, so too does that of non‐Indigenous men. So if we are to close the gap, we cannot afford to lose momentum on targeted action, particularly that relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander male health and wellbeing.

To view The Medical Journal of Australia article Improved life expectancy for Indigenous and non‐Indigenous people in the Northern Territory, 1999–2018: overall and by underlying cause of death in full click here.

Photo: Emilia Terzon, 105.7 ABC Darwin. Image source: ABC News.

Growing First Nations pharmacist workforce

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are drastically underrepresented in the pharmacy profession, accounting for just 0.3% of the pharmacist workforce. This disparity impacts patients, policy and pharmacists themselves – so what must be done to address it?

For those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are employed in the health sector, data show they are often paid less and in less recognised roles than their non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peers. This imbalance has a direct impact on health outcomes, with studies showing that ‘Indigenous patients have identified the absence of Indigenous workers as a barrier to the availability of care’.

The reasons for the lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in pharmacy are manifold, says Paul Gibson, Indigenous Allied Health Australia Executive Director of Strategy and Partnerships, the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander allied health professionals. ‘There are several factors which contribute to the underrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the profession, and within the health workforce collectively, including racism, systemic failings and the impacts of the social determinants on education, training and employment outcomes,’ he says.

To view the Australian Pharmacist article How to grow our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pharmacist workforce in full click here.

PSA’s 2022 Pharmacist of the Year, Wiradjuri woman Professor Faye McMillan AM MPS. Image source: Australian Pharmacist.

Plan to make dental care culturally safe

First Nations cultural safety will be given priority under a new plan to overhaul Australia’s dental care curriculum. Led by University of Melbourne dental school professor Julie Satur, the new plan will ensure graduate dentists have the appropriate skills to provide culturally safe oral health care and encourage more Indigenous students into the system.

Melbourne Poche Centre for Indigenous Health Indigenous health leadership coordinator Josh Cubillo said the new curriculum would challenge students to identify bias, assumptions and racism. “Cultural safety is a spirit of practice taking into account Indigenous peoples’ strong connections to Country,” he said. “Cultural safety leads to cultural respect and a feeling of security for the patient. Acknowledging Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing is the biggest step and this new curriculum is a start.”

Under the new curriculum all Australian dental programs will be designed to meet the specific needs of their local communities. Ms Satur said the new curriculum was overdue. “We know dental care is expensive and oral health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are significant. We also know that poor oral health has multiple effects on other aspects of health,” she said.

To read the National Indigenous Times article Dental care overhaul to place cultural safety at forefront of industry in full click here.

Image source: Armajun Aboriginal Health Service website.

Caring for youth with type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is being seen at younger and younger ages, especially among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Early intervention is essential to avoid serious complications, but a study undertaken in Northern and Central Australia has uncovered critical gaps. Work is underway to bring healthcare providers, patients and their families together to improve models of care.

Reporter Tegan Taylor spoke to Dr Renae Kirkham from the Menzies Institute in Darwin, and Emily who was diagnosed two years ago when she was 14, about some of the issues that come up post-diagnosis.

You can access a recording of the ABC Radio National interview Caring for Indigenous youth with type 2 diabetes and a transcript by clicking here.

Image: Getty Images. Image source: ABC Rational National website.

Getting eye health back on track

While COVID-19 continues to linger in our communities, the initial upheaval caused by its outbreak in In the aftermath of the pandemic, mivision checked in on programs on home soil, to see how they have fared over the last three years, and what plans they have for getting back on track.

When the pandemic began, keeping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people safe from the spread of COVID-19 became a main priority for Indigenous leaders and those who provide health services to remote parts of Australia. For the Fred Hollows Foundation, this meant the cessation of access to vulnerable communities for extended periods of time. This challenge greatly affected The Foundation’s work in remote communities, where over one-third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have never had an eye exam.

“In Australia, the pandemic has widened the gap in eye health between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians, adding to the already-large backlog of surgeries needed,” Ian Wishart, CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation, told mivision. When elective surgery re-commenced, The Foundation’s focus was on ensuring fair representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to ensure they were not at the back of the cataract surgery waitlists.

To read the mivision article Getting Back on Track: Humanitarian Eye Heath Post-Pandemic in full click here.

Dr Kris Rallah-Baker assessing a patient. Photo: The Fred Hollows Foundation. Image source: National Indigenous Times.

Sector Jobs

Sector Jobs – you can see sector job listings on the NACCHO website here.

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