NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Torres Strait leaders want review into health service

feature tile: aerial view of Thursday Island Hospital; text 'Torres Strait leaders want a review into health service amid 'declining health', 'weekly deaths''

The image in the feature tile is an aerial view of the Thursday Island Hospital published in the ABC News article Torres Strait leaders want review into health service amid ‘declining health’, ‘weekly’ deaths yesterday, Monday 26 June 2023. Photo: Brendan Mounter, ABC News.

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.

Torres Strait leaders want review into health service

Leaders in Queensland’s Torres Strait Islands say a review into “avoidable” weekly deaths at the region’s hospitals is overdue but needs to be independent. In a desperate letter to Premier Annastascia Palaszczuk, three First Nations leaders raised concerns, including that at least three avoidable deaths occurred each week. They also said culturally safe frontline services had been withdrawn in the “declining health status of our highly burdened, defenceless community”.

A co-author of the letter and chair of the Torres Strait Regional Authority, Napau Pedro Stephen, said people from the Torres Strait who sought treatment at Far North Queensland hospitals “should get better and come back to our homeland” but instead have been dying. “They’re coming back in wooden boxes,” he said. In their letter, the leaders said some families had been forced to decide whether to go to Cairns for life-saving treatment, which carried the risk of “creating additional expenses for their loved ones to repatriate their remains home”.

Earlier this month, the mayor of the Northern Peninsula Area on Cape York called for an investigation into the death of a two-year-old girl who had presented to Bamaga Hospital. The mayor of the Torres Shire Council, Yen Loban, and has called for Torres Strait Islander medical experts and grassroots community members to be involved in the review. Mr Stephen said it was “frightening” to learn Queensland Health would lead the review of the health service and an independent process was the “only way to move forward. It’s not that we would just come up with problems with Queensland Health,” he said. “We’d come up with solutions.”

To view the ABC News article Torres Strait leaders want review into health service amid ‘declining health’, ‘weekly’ deaths in full click here.

Bamaga Hospital ER sign

A toddler died after presenting to Bamaga Hospital in the Torres and Cape region this month. Photo: Brendan Mounter, ABC Far North. Image source: ABC News.

ACCHOs essential to Closing the Gap

Culturally safe healthcare and social services are essential for Closing the Gap. Professor in tropical health and medicine at James Cook University, Ian Ring describes Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations as some of the “best health services in Australia.”

“These services understand the important cultural issues which are fundamental to Indigenous health care provision, and crucially, provide better access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to health services in general and, of course, to the health and social services that are essential for Closing the Gap,” Professor Ring said.

The service model in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, which provide comprehensive primary healthcare, are regarded around the world as the preferred model of care. Professor Ring says where delivery of healthcare fails is the result of actions by the executive government which impacts what happens on the ground. He said, “too little funding was directed to services run by and for Indigenous peoples (National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation) which have been shown to outperform mainstream services in recognising and dealing with key Indigenous issues like chronic disease and maternal health.”

The above story has been extracted from an opinion piece Ian Ring | Indigenous Voice to Parliament must include executive government was published in The Area News yesterday, 26 June 2013. You can read more from Professor Ring on the Close the Gap Facebook page here.

Puntukurna Aboriginal Medical Services Healthcare, Newman WA aerial view

Puntukurnu Aboriginal Medical Services Healthcare, Newman WA. Photo: Robert Frith, Acorn. Image source: North West Telegraph.

Hepatitis B treatment in remote and regional areas

Despite the effectiveness of hepatitis B care and treatment in reducing the risk of liver disease and cancer, significant gaps remain in access and Australia is not meeting National Hepatitis B Strategy 2023–2030 Strategy targets for coverage. A new study by the Doherty Institute has revealed healthcare services and treatment for hepatitis B are being unevenly distributed across Australia, resulting in disparities among individuals living with hepatitis B.

Remote and regional areas experience lower rates of hepatitis B testing, diagnosis and subsequent treatment compared to metro areas. This includes limited access to specialised healthcare services, such as liver specialists and antiviral treatment options. The study highlights the need for targeted interventions and improved healthcare infrastructure in underserved regions to ensure equitable access to care.

However, certain remote areas in the NT and Far North Queensland have achieved care uptake rates of 70% or higher. These findings highlight the positive impact of the comprehensive programs implemented to improve access to care for hepatitis B, particularly within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in areas where the challenges to health care service delivery are substantial.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital Professor Ben Cowie, Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis at the Doherty Institute said that addressing geographic disparities in hepatitis B care and treatment is crucial for achieving optimal outcomes nationwide. “By leveraging the insights from the Report, healthcare professionals, policymakers, and researchers can work together to bridge the gaps in access and improve the overall management of hepatitis B across Australia,” Professor Cowie said.

You can read the Doherty Institute article Geographic disparities in uptake of care and treatment for hepatitis B across Australia in full here.

blue gloved hand holding vial with words 'Hepatitis B' & '+' ticked

Image source: Pharmaceutical Technology website.

Tamworth region health leaders celebrated

The Tamworth Aboriginal Medical Service (TAMS), and Moree health leader, Donna Taylor are among the recipients of the 2023 Primary Health Network (PHN) Primary Care Quality and Innovation Awards. The awards celebrated the outstanding contributions of local health leaders, including those continuing to make a positive contribution for improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes. The event recognised the efforts and achievements of individuals and organisations dedicated to improving health outcomes for Aboriginal communities and providing appropriate care to Aboriginal people in the Tamworth region.

The First Nations Health Award was won by the Tamworth Aboriginal Medical Service Cardiac Rehab and Prevention program. The award acknowledges organisations that address health inequalities for First Nations communities. After a well-respected Aboriginal woman informed TAMS that the Tamworth Hospital Cardiac rehab was based in the mammography building and men are never going to go there, TAMS worked with Hunter New England Health and a local gym owner to start the extremely successful Aboriginal-led Cardiac Rehab and Prevention program.

Donna Taylor of Pius X Aboriginal Corporation in Moree won the Primary Care Leader Award, given for innovation and leadership in primary care, and demonstrating the values of ‘respect, innovation, accountability, integrity, cooperation, and recognition’. Ms Taylor has been the CEO of Pius X Aboriginal Corporation for 24 years and has been instrumental in the provision of specialist health practitioners to Moree and surrounding areas. Recognising the barriers in the community to see specialists, such as cost, travel and separation from family, Donna set herself the mission to entice specialists to come to Moree and successfully attracted and ENT, gynaecologist, rheumatologist, ophthalmologist, cardiologist, psychiatrist, paediatrician and neurologist.

You can read The New England Times article Local health leaders recognised at PHN awards the full article here.

Moree health leader Donna Taylor holding Certificate of Excellence Finalist award

Moree health leader Donna Taylor was a recipient of the 2023 PHN PC Quality and Innovation Awards. Image source: The New England Times.

WSLHD leads research on vaping in schools

The Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) has taken a significant step in understanding the issue of vaping in schools. Professor Smita Shah OAM and her team at WSLHD’s Prevention Education Research Unit undertook a study across seven high schools in Greater Western Sydney, to address the issue of adolescent e-cigarette use. More than 160 students, 130 school staff and 30 parents participated in the research, which employed an interactive, strengths-based approach, engaging students, staff, and parents to understand their perceptions and concerns regarding e-cigarette use among adolescents.

Results found an alarming prevalence of vaping among school-aged children in Western Sydney. WSLHD has called for proactive intervention measures and education programs to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the younger generation.

Key takeaways from the study includes:

  • There is no ‘one size fits all’: Schools request tailored education and engagement to address unique needs!
  • Education for young people needs to centre on effective learning approaches for tackling vaping. This means a focus on how and what young people learn, and the best ways to engage.
  • Prevention messaging needs to resonate with the children’s peer group.
  • A holistic approach to combat vaping needs to be embraced across the school, with supportive strategies, policies, and parent/staff education.
  • Focus on collaborative efforts between health and education for wellbeing-centred vaping prevention strategies.

You can read The Pulse article ‘Eye-opening’: Western Sydney Local Health district leads the way on new key research about vaping in schools in full here.

hand holding Peach Ice vape with school playground in the background

Photo: Tahlia Roy, ABC News.

Spotlight needs to be on communities not government

Government should be a spotlight on communities rather than control the spotlight, according to the Healthy Communities Foundation Australia CEO Mark Burdack. Mr Burdack said “One of the strategic shifts for government to really contemplate and think through is how to move the spotlight from government to a position where the government is a spotlight on communities.”

“How do we empower communities? And how does government generate a sense of success through the successes of communities, rather than through its own outputs and inputs? An issue surrounding governments’ community consultation is policy designed at scale, resulting in “one size fits all” solutions. We know, for example, that improving educational attainment will actually, in a lot of ways, do more to reduce the overall burden of disease, and therefore improve health and reduce hospitalisations than having a doctor in a small town,” Burdack said.

“I’m not saying it’s an either/or. What I’m saying is that we understand the dynamics, the cycle of disadvantage, and what drives those social determinants of health.” He mentioned Closing the Gap as an example of pressure on public servants to deliver improvements. “Departments are under a lot of pressure to demonstrate tangible improvements in the lives of Aboriginal people, reducing the child mortality rate, reducing the diabetes rate, and increasing the number of children in early childhood,” Burdack said. “And that pressure has a tendency or a risk of forcing people into their own lanes.”

To view The Mandarin article Government needs to be a spotlight on communities for better outcomes in full click here.

group of young adults, Healthy Communities Foundation Australia (HCFA) logo

Image source: The Healthy Communities Foundation website.

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