NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Much to celebrate ahead of NAIDOC Week

AHW checking ear of ATSI child (being held by mother); text: 'There is lot to CELEBRATE in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health care'

The image in the feature tile is from the Clinical Services webpage of the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services (WNAHCS) website.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

Much to celebrate ahead of NAIDOC Week

Australia will mark NAIDOC Week from Sunday 2 July, a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life, history and culture, which is the oldest living culture in the world. Although the roots of NAIDOC were present before the 1920s, when Aboriginal activist groups began protesting for their rights, today it is an important celebration of First Nations peoples. Indigenous researchers and leaders say there is a lot to celebrate in First Nations health care with Aboriginal community controlled health initiatives continuing to deliver successful outcomes around Australia as well as demanding Indigenous-led medical research and data.

Associate Professor of Indigenous Studies and Aboriginal Education at the University of Sydney and Co-Chair of the National NAIDOC Committee, Aunty (Dr) Lynette Riley AO said  NAIDOC is an important forum to highlight current issues for Indigenous peoples. A/Prof Riley said this year’s NAIDOC theme “For our Elders” acknowledges that “Elders are pivotal to everything that we do. They’re the people who hold our cultural knowledge. They help to support our communities against institutional racism and the impact of colonisation. Without them, we don’t have our culture.”

One such Elder was the late Olive Brown, an Aboriginal leader and health worker, who set up a temporary health service in Canberra to support people living and protesting at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1988. In 2023, that service has become the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services (WNAHCS), an Aboriginal community controlled primary health care service in Canberra, operated by the Indigenous community of the ACT. WNAHCS CEO, Julie Tongs OAM said “Australia is a racist country, and racism is one of the biggest factors impacting on my people on a daily basis. The importance of having Aboriginal community controlled health services is that we provide culturally appropriate care. Particularly our disadvantaged and vulnerable clients.”

To view the article Much to celebrate for Indigenous health ahead of NAIDOC Week published in Issue 23 of InSight today click here.

Julie Tongs, CEO of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services

Julie Tongs, CEO of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services. Photo: Kerrie Brewer. Image Source: Canberra Weekly.

Mulungu Health Clinic health services expanded

A huge step by Mareeba’s Mulungu Aboriginal Corporation Primary Health Care Service will allow hundreds of local First Nations people to address not only their dental needs but their general health, while alleviating pressures on the public system. A new dentistry service will be added to the Mareeba clinic following the immense success of the Atherton facility which was established last year.

Mulungu CEO Gail Wason said that after witnessing the high success rate in Atherton, it was time to provide the same service in Mareeba. State-of-the-art equipment has been sourced to enable dentists to perform all necessary procedures in-house. “We have had a clinic in Atherton that has been open for a year and a bit now, and at the same time, the health clinic opened up,” she said. “We have highly advanced equipment in the dental surgery that is unparalleled. It has always been deemed a necessity, not just by me but also by our doctors. They often express the wish to have a magic wand to ensure everyone receives proper dental care, as our people do not readily seek dental treatment until they end up in the hospital.”

To receive a dental checkup, patients must also undergo a full health check, with a focus on overall wellbeing. Ms Wason hopes the new addition to their Mareeba facility will contribute to a healthier and happier community, particularly encouraging the younger generation to prioritise their health. “It is crucial it is about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people addressing their health needs. It aligns with the primary healthcare services we offer,” she said. “We want them to take advantage of the opportunities they have and the opportunities that will arise in the future.”

To view The Express article Boost for health services in full click here.

Mulungu Aboriginal Corporation Primary Health Care Service staff standing outside ACCHO building

Mulungu Aboriginal Corporation Primary Health Care Service (MACPHCS) staff. Image source: MACPHCS website.

Kimberley leaders say CTG figures ‘unacceptable’

Indigenous leaders in WA’s Kimberley region say recent Closing the Gap data is “unacceptable” as they call for meaningful change to improve the lives of Aboriginal people. Recent data released by the Productivity Commission has revealed only four or 19 goals were on course to be met by 2031. Targets focus on reducing high incarceration and family violence rates, improving health and education outcomes, and increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in the workforce.

Aboriginal Family Legal Services chief executive Corina Martin said the figures were disappointing. “The broad lack of progress against the Closing the Gap outcome areas speaks to the ongoing disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal people across Australia,” she said. “It is not acceptable that only four outcome areas are on track to be met by 2031.”

One target is to reduce the rate of family violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island women and children by 50% by 2031. No new data has been recorded, but WA sat higher than the national average in 2018–19. Ms Martin said the data highlighted vulnerable groups. “We know that Aboriginal women and children continue to experience violence at disproportionate and unacceptable rates,” she said. “This illustrates an obvious demand for reform of how services are delivered to and for Aboriginal people. This cannot be the reality that we accept for our families and communities.”

To view the ABC News article Latest Closing the Gap figures are ‘unacceptable’, Kimberley Aboriginal leaders say in full click here.

aerial view of community in the Kimberley, WA

The Kimberley is home to more than 100 Aboriginal communities. Photo: Paul Bell, Feral Films. Image source: ABC News.

Alliance calls for ACCHO-like model of care

Last Friday (23 June 2023) Nyngan was host to the launch of the National Rural Health Alliance’s (the Alliance) Independent Report on health spending for rural Australians. The Report provides startling new evidence of rural health shortfall, with each person in rural NSW missing out on close to $850 a year of healthcare access totalling a hefty $6.5b a year. A sombre read by any standards, the report looks at all ages and geographical positionings, along with Indigenous, disability, aged and children subgroups and the affects the lack of cohesive health care is having on these communities.

“The report looks at health spending from a patient’s perspective, reflecting the alarming day-to-day realities for rural Australians unable to access equitable care,” said Alliance Chief Executive Susi Tegen, who spoke at the Nyngan launch. “Over 7m people, who make up nearly a third of Australia’s population, experience a greater burden from illness and early death, in part due to inadequate funding for their health care. This is despite the significant contribution they make to Australia’s economy,” she said.

The Alliance is calling for the funding of a place-based multidisciplinary model of primary health care – Primary care Rural Integrated Multidisciplinary Health Services (PRIM-HS) – that gives the flexibility to engage communities and address local needs in partnership, in a similar way to ACCHOs. “Communities need access to health care in their localities. To achieve this, we urge government to add to existing city-based and hybrid (city/rural) training, with a flipped model of exceptional rural medical and allied training, including nurse training. This would make training in cities the exception and enable students living rurally to train in their own communities.

Currently there is no ACCHO in Nygnan, the four closest ACCHOs are between 185–258 kms away in Coonamble, Wellington, Peak Hill and Bourke.

To view Western Plains App article Nyngan hosts National Rural Health Alliance in full click here.

aerial shot of Nyngan, NSW

Aerial view of Nyngan. Photo: Emily Taylor. Image source: R. M. Williams Outback magazine.

CHF comes out fighting on double dispensing

The Consumers Health Foundation (CHF) has taken the gloves off in the 60-day dispensing information wars with a new website designed to help GPs and their patients understand the policy. “There’s been a lot of misinformation circulating that is concerning consumers unnecessarily, but the bottom line is that 60-day scripts are good for the health of Australians, as well as their hip pocket,” said CEO Elizabeth Deveny.

“Increasing the ability for an estimated 11m consumers with chronic conditions to get a 60-day supply of their medicines, instead of a 30-day supply, effectively halves the cost of their medicines each time they visit the pharmacy. In addition to saving money, consumers will also save time and travel costs. This is especially important for consumers who live in rural and remote communities who often have to travel hundreds of kms to the nearest pharmacy. Having a greater supply of medication on hand should also lead to more people taking their medicines as prescribed and this has been proven to lead to better health outcomes. For all these reasons, what we are hearing loud and clear from Australian health consumers is that the move to 60-day scripts is a very welcome change.”

The new website includes an open letter from supporting groups – including the RACGP, Asthma Australia, NACCHO, the AMA and the Lung Foundation Australia – to parliamentarians. “The [60-day dispensing] measure will not contribute to medicine shortages,” the letter says.

To view The Medical Republic article CHF comes out fighting on double dispensing in full click here.

hands of chemist holding box of medicine in each hand

Image source: RACGP newsGP.

Community-led effort to understand homelessness

A community-led effort to establish a better understanding  of homelessness in Albany has moved on to the next phase after a successful first data-gathering session. More than 80 participants representing 130 people dealing with homelessness provided details about their experiences at an Albany Connection Point information gathering session last month. The session was hosted by Advance Housing, who have partnered with Albany Youth Support Association, Anglicare WA, Albany Community Foundation, Southern Aboriginal Corporation, Albany Community Legal Centre and Pivot Support Services on the project. Support has also being provided by the Office of Homelessness, Department of Communities, the City of Albany, WA Police and the Great Southern Aboriginal Health Service.

Advance Housing chief executive John Lysaught said the session was a success because it provided proof the problem was bigger than government data suggested. “Participating community organisations have always held that the problem is bigger than recognised by government for our region,” he said. “This single initial collaborative event has shown in 12 hours just how flawed the previous data was.”

He said the session showed there was a larger proportion of people aged 20 to 39 experiencing homelessness than expected given the broader Albany demographic. He also said it highlighted the massive problem rough sleeping which has been a “largely hidden” and that people would engage with a services if they were provided a safe space to do so. Further sessions designed to engage with those affected by homelessness will be organised so that the organisations involved can better advocate for funding to tackle the issue and target their limited resources to area they are most needed.

To view the Albany Advertiser article Community-driven project already leading to more accurate data about extent of Albany homelessness issues in full click here.

homeless person with makeshift bedding sleeping in public area

Photo: Graeme Powell. Image source: ABC News.

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