NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Self-determination is key to positive health outcomes

feature tile image red gold Aboriginal art across map of Australia superimposed with white font text 'self Determination'; other text 'Self-determination is a key factor in achieving positive health outcomes'

The image in the feature tile is from an article To achieve racial justice, we must self-determine meaningfully by Jarrod Hughes published by IndigenousX on 6 August 2020.

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.

Self-determination is key to positive health outcomes

Next Wednesday, 9 August, is the United Nations’s (UN) International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, a day to raise awareness and highlight the rights of the 476 million Indigenous people across 90 countries. In May this year the World Health Assembly passed an unprecedented resolution aimed at strengthening the health of Indigenous people. The resolution contains several ambitious obligations for member states to improve Indigenous health, including the development of national plans to improve access to health care for Indigenous peoples; the integration, where possible, of traditional and complementary medicine in health systems, particularly in primary care and mental health; and the training and recruiting of Indigenous people as health workers. It hopes to reduce some of the stark inequalities faced by many Indigenous peoples as a result of colonisation, displacement, and repression.

The term “Indigenous peoples” is in many ways a crude one, isolating and homogenising 5000 diverse cultures with vastly different experiences, needs, hopes, challenges, opportunities, and ways of life. But there are areas of common cause and solidarity, especially with regards to health. Life expectancy is more than 5 years lower in Indigenous than in non-Indigenous populations in Australia, Cameroon, Canada (First Nations and Inuit), Greenland, Kenya, NZ, and Panama. Maternal mortality, infant mortality, and mental health are often of particular concern. A recent Health Policy on environmental equity argues that Indigenous communities face a disproportionate burden of illness and mortality due to climate change, yet their inclusion and involvement in environmental health policy has been tokenistic at best.

Respect, support, and prioritisation of different Indigenous leadership, knowledges, cultural expression, and continuity and resilience are essential across health, as shown most recently by the COVID-19 pandemic. First Nations peoples in Australia were able to reverse initial disparities in the burden of COVID-19 when empowered by the government to lead their own response early in the pandemic. Indigenous sovereignty, coupled with a community-centred approach focused on cultural relevance and the use of Indigenous health-care providers, appears to have played a crucial role in mitigating the effects of COVID-19.

To view The Lancet article Indigenous health: self-determination is key in full click here.
health workers in PPE in Indigenous community

Health workers in an Indigenous community at the end of 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Michael Franchi. Image source: ABC News.

Purpose built AMS planned for Brewarinna

Frustration was apparent in the 2022 annual report of the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (WAMS). Mary Purse, the chairperson of the WAMS Board of Directors noted that “for some fifteen years past, the federal government are not responding to WAMS formal applications for the expansion of the Sandon Street property. Efforts to access funding have finally paid off with WAMS recently being awarded funding from the Federal Government’s $120m allocated for major capital works at community‑controlled organisations. Funding will help construct a new purpose built Aboriginal Medical Service building in Brewarrina.

“(We) are very pleased WAMS has secured the funding to assist in the build in a new purpose-built building and looking forward to the Brewarrina community having access to new state of the art primary health care facility,” Ms Purse said after the announcement. BAMS services Brewarrina and the surrounding communities and small towns in the area, providing not only health care but also programs which focus on Aboriginal culture, youth, education, housing and all aspects of life in a remote rural community for Aboriginal people.

BAMS is auspiced by the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service Limited (WAMS) who accepted an invitation from the NSW Department of Health to oversee the running of the service to maintain a well-disciplined ACCHO. Chief Operations Manager, Katrina Ward is excited to oversee the new project for enhancing medical services for the Brewarrina community and offered thanks the WAMS Board of Directors and CEO for their continued support and assistance in maintaining medical services for the local and surrounding communities. WAMS CEO, Mrs Christine Corby AM, who also recognises the overdue need for a new medical facility in Brewarrina, was very happy with the funding outcome.

To view the Western Plains App article Long term goal achieved with purpose built AMS planned for Brewarrina in full click here.

external view of Brewarrina Aboriginal Health Service Ltd

Brewarrina Aboriginal Health Service Ltd. Image source: Gather website.

CTG Report – no joy in ‘I told you so’

Last week the Productivity Commission released its draft Review of the National Closing the Gap Agreement (the Agreement). The Agreement was launched in July 2020, promising a new era of reform and a ‘genuine’ commitment of governments to work in partnership with First Nations peak organisations. Rather than any bland words of tepid excuse or obfuscating, the Commission launched right into the heart of why, 18 years after the first call to Close the Gap  in health outcomes between First Nations and non-Indigenous peoples, the Government’s ‘efforts’ to fix things continues to languish in failure:  “Progress in implementing the Agreement’s Priority Reforms has, for the most part, been weak and reflects a business-as-usual approach to implementing policies and programs that affect the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Weak. Business-as-usual. Michelle Gratton called it ‘depressingly predictable’. This has been the never ending story for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities when it comes to social policies that impact them. The Commission went on to say that the “Current implementation raises questions about whether governments have fully grasped the scale of change required to their systems, operations and ways of working to deliver the unprecedented shift they have committed to” and that “It is too easy to find examples of government decisions that contradict commitments in the Agreement, that do not reflect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s priorities and perspectives and that exacerbate, rather than remedy, disadvantage and discrimination. This is particularly obvious in youth justice systems.”

Pat Turner, NACCHO CEO and convenor of the Coalition of Peaks that negotiated the 2020 National Agreement on Closing the Gap has said ‘…that governments need to do much more to implement their commitments to the Priority Reforms, that progress has been patchy and not as intended. I hope this review is a wakeup call to governments to get on with the job they have all agreed to do.’ This was also the reflection of Productivity Commissioner, and Djugun-Yawuru man Romlie Mokak who said that good intentions are not translating to meaningful action on the ground and in communities.

To view the Pearls and Irritations blog post No joy in ‘I told you so’: the Productivity Commission’s 2023 Closing the Gap Report by Paul Wright published earlier today, in full click here.

Aboriginal & Australian flags flying

Image source: Pearls and Irritations.

National Cervical Screening Program update

The National Cervical Screening Program education course for healthcare providers has now been updated to reflect the expansion of self-collection eligibility on 1 July 2022. The course is a self-directed Continuing Professional Development (CPD) online training course consisting of six modules, intended to enhance, reinforce and increase knowledge about the Cervical Screening Test and clinical pathways.

The duration of each module is approximately one hour, with one self-directed CPD point able to be allocated per hour spent completing the modules. Information on self-collection as a screening option can be found throughout all modules, but of particular interest may be Module 4 Screening in Practice which describes the steps involved in supporting a patient to self-collect a vaginal Cervical Screening Test sample.

We encourage you to distribute this information to your networks to ensure all healthcare providers who administer cervical screening are able to offer and promote self-collection as a safe and accessible Cervical Screening Test option.

You can find more information about the National Cervical Screening Program education course here.

The below video is from the NSW Government Cancer Institute NSW webpage Cervical screening for Aboriginal women available here.

FASD Communications and Engagement grants

NACCHO is excited to announce Round 2 of the FASD Communications and Engagement Grant is now open to support NACCHO members to develop and deliver highly-localised, place-based communications materials and engagement activities to enhance and extend the Strong Born communications campaign. Strong Born has been designed to raise awareness of FASD and the harms of drinking alcohol while pregnant and breastfeeding, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in rural and remote communities.

Round 2 of the FASD Grant is open to all NACCHO members who did not receive funding in Round 1. Eligible ACCHOs are also able to deliver a place-based response in collaboration with other community-controlled organisations and communities.

Eligible ACCHOs can apply for between $5,000 – $60,000 (GST exclusive) of FASD Grant funding which can be used for activities such as:

  1. Creation of locally relevant communications materials and resources raising awareness of FASD and the harms of drinking alcohol while pregnant and breastfeeding
  2. Hosting community events and yarning circles
  3. Running information sessions for staff members
  4. Production of additional copies of the ‘Strong Born’ campaign materials
  5. Translation or adaptation of ‘Strong Born’ campaign materials and/or key messages into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages

You can register for the grant information session on Wednesday 9 August at 2.00pm AEDT here.

You can find more information about the FASD Grant and how to apply on the NACCHO website here.

Applications for Round 2 will close 11.00pm AEDT 11 August 2023.

You can also contact the NACCHO FASD Grants team by email using this link.

tile NACCHO logo; text 'FASD Communications & Engagement Grant Round 2 Open Strong Born

Sector Jobs

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

Advertising Jobs – to advertise a job vacancy click here to go to the NACCHO website current job listings webpage. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find a Post A Job form. You can complete this form with your job vacancy details – it will then be approved for posting and go live on the NACCHO website.

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day is celebrated across the country each year on 4 August. It is a time for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities to celebrate the strength and culture of their children. Children’s Day was first held in 1988. Part of the reason it was started was because there were many of our children in orphanages and institutions who did not know their birthday, so Children’s Day was set aside each year to celebrate the birthday of these children.

The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) is the National Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children. As the national peak body, they have a responsibility to make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s voices as powerful as possible, now and into the future. A First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution will amplify the work being done to ensure our children can flourish, with power over their destinies.

This year’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day theme ‘Little Voices, Loud Futures’ fires that ambition. SNAICC is raising awareness for the bright futures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and the potential for their voices to pave a new path for our nation. As always, SNAICC supports the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in calling for a future where they are proud and empowered by their culture to speak their truth and be listened to by all Australians.

You can find more information about National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day on the SNAICC website here.

banner SNAICC's National ATSI Children's Day 'Little Voices, Loud Futures' 4 August 2023

World Breastfeeding Week – 1–7 August 2023

During World Breastfeeding Week, 1–7 August 2023, NACCHO has been sharing a range information about breastfeeding as it relates to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their families.

Below is a video Just Let Them Them Feed requested by the Western Arrarnta people of Ntaria (Hermannsburg, NT). The Aboriginal women wanted to reinforce the benefits of breastfeeding and educate their community and other Aboriginal people about the importance of breastfeeding. Sometimes this essential health information gets missed in the messages health staff communicate out bush because most Aboriginal women are seen as “natural breast feeders,” but this isn’t always the case.

The project came about through a direct connection with a core group of breastfeeding women who live and work in Ntaria. They had been talking about the decline in breastfeeding among young women in their community, and they wanted to do something about it. Young men and women were involved from the start of the project to attract younger community members to watch and listen to what the older, wiser men and women had to say about the benefits of breastfeeding. The younger ones rapped about the importance of breastfeeding through the use of song and dance, while the elders spoke with wisdom and truth about the benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby and the next generation.

Voices from the community, as well as from the staff at the local health centre, were recorded so that people could hear about how breastfeeding is important for the future of the culture and community. Published research about drops in breastfeeding rates in Central Australian remote communities has not been presented to date, but even a small shift down in these rates is something local women and Elders want to address now. Community members report that some young mums bottle feed because they want to smoke, drink, or go out, but they don’t want their actions to affect the baby, or they have tried breastfeeding and just cannot breastfeed for whatever reason. Another youthful perception is that if other people can formula feed, so can they; but they don’t really know the consequences to the health of their baby when making this decision. We know that during the first six months of a baby’s life, we need to Let Them Feed.

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