NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Inaugural World Congress on RHD

young ATSI girl Tenaya Bell looking a long chest scar from heart surgery

The image in the feature tile is of Tenaya Bell, one of the 1,000s of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with RHD. The image appeared in the ABC News article Rheumatic heart disease has turned Tenaya Bell’s life upside down published on 25 September 2020.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is a 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.

Inaugural World Congress on RHD

In many parts of the world, Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) has been virtually eradicated for decades. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience some of the highest rates of RHD in the world. NACCHO’s commitment to addressing this inequity is a driver behind NACCHO Deputy CEO, Dr Dawn Casey’s keynote address at the World Congress on RHD in Abu Dhabi. Speaking on the disproportionate rates of the disease in the country, Dr Casey stated, “RHD is the epitome of health gaps between our Indigenous peoples and other Australians.”

Hosted by the World Heart Federation, the World Congress on RHD brought together experts from around the world to explore practical and effective solutions to ending RHD. On the world stage, Dr Casey stated that “real change” is only possible if the level of burden faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from RHD is recognised at a global level. “Australia’s Indigenous people have the longest continuous living culture in the world. Documented to be around 60,000 to 80,000 years,” she said. “Yet, both internationally and nationally we remain hidden, and barley acknowledged.”

NACCHO’s approach acknowledges that prevention is better than the cure, and that efforts designed to prevent RHD and Acute Rheumatic Fever (ARF) in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are best placed in the context of comprehensive, and culturally safe primary care. Experts estimate that more than 69% of new cases of first ARF would be prevented by combining housing, health promotion, and primary care. Adequate housing and clean water are among strategies to reduce ARF and RHD, which are “more appropriately described as fundamental human rights,” Dr Casey said. “The impact on health is self-evident. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities know this. NACCHO knows this. And we will not waver from this human right,” she said.

Learn more about NACCHO’s work on RHD and ARF here.

The below image is of a lunchtime panel symposium on how philanthropy can support collaborative efforts to ending RHD, sponsored by the Snow Foundation as part of the World Congress on RHD.

panel at World Congress on RHD - (L to R):Georgina Byron, CEO Snow Foundation Jonathan Carapetis, Director, Telethon Kids Institute Dawn Casey, DCEO, NACCHO Bo Remenyi, Paediatric Cardiologist, Menzies School of Health Research

L to R: Georgina Byron, CEO Snow Foundation Jonathan Carapetis, Director, Telethon Kids Institute, Dawn Casey, Deputy CEO, NACCHO Bo Remenyi, Paediatric Cardiologist, Menzies School of Health Research.

Inadequate CTG commitment holding back progress

Lowitja Institute has welcomed the draft findings of the Productivity Commission’s first three-yearly review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap and urged all levels of government to accelerate the implementation of the Agreement’s four Priority Reforms. Lowitja Institute CEO Adjunct Professor Janine Mohamed said the draft review report, released on Wednesday this week (8 November 2023), tells us that governments do not adequately understand the urgency or magnitude of what is required to meet their commitments under the National Agreement.

The Productivity Commission review states that ‘governments are not adequately delivering’ on the National Agreement and there has been a ‘business-as-usual approach to implementing policies and programs that affect the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’. Adjunct Professor Mohamed highlighted the findings on Priority Reform Three that calls for governments to transform the way they work, ensuring they are accountable, transparent, culturally safe and responsive to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“The Coalition of Peaks made it clear to governments that the socioeconomic targets will only be achieved if governments transform the way they work. What is needed is whole-of-system understanding and effort to embrace every opportunity to embed Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing. That means we can’t have a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach; we need place-based co-design, which is good for everyone,” Adjunct Professor Mohamed said. The Productivity Commission found that, in most policy areas, governments have not co-developed and enacted shared decision-making arrangements that enable reforms to be designed in genuine partnership. Their investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations is often short-term, unpredictable, and not collaborative and there has been little change to the public sector data-sharing landscape.

To view the First Nations Telegraph article Governments’ inadequate commitment to their Closing the Gap responsibilities is holding back progress in full click here.

portrait shot Lowitja Institute CEO Adjunct Professor Janine Mohamed

Lowitja Institute CEO Adjunct Professor Janine Mohamed. Image source: First Nations Telegraph.

Resources address high stillbirth rates

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women as well as migrant and refugee women from communities disproportionately impacted by stillbirth have been involved in co-designing new culturally appropriate pregnancy resources, to save the lives of babies in their own communities. Stillbirth rates in Australia remain tragically high, with six babies stillborn on average, every day.

A suite of sensitively-crafted, in-language resources, called ‘Stronger Bubba Born’ and ‘Growing a Healthy Baby’, have been developed from the evidence-based Safer Baby Bundle to improve maternity care for these communities and contribute to reducing stillbirth rates in Australia by 20%t. It is believed between 20 and 30% of late gestation stillbirths are preventable with better care, however systemic healthcare barriers can prevent important discussions about stillbirth prevention.

These new resources have been developed through extensive community consultation and input from health educators, to ensure the information and illustrations are culturally appropriate and reduce the devastating impact of stillbirth on these communities. The resources were developed by the Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence (Stillbirth CRE) Indigenous research team with the guidance of the Indigenous Advisory Group. Delivery partner Curtin University supported the extensive consultation and co-design process.

NACCHO and the Waminda South Coast Women’s Health and Wellbeing Aboriginal Corporation are also collaborators with the CRE on their Indigenous work. Arabic, Dari, Dinka and Karen-speaking communities now have access to important tailored information in the form of a written booklet, summary video and self-paced digital booklet with audio. The resources are now available at the Growing a Healthy Baby website here.

To view the First Nations Telegraph article Culturally-sensitive resources address high stillbirth rates in full click here.

tile Stronger Bubba Born, Aboriginal art circle & hands cupped

Artwork: produced by QAIHC. Image source: Stronger Bubba Born website.

Respiratory disease warning for remote mob

Indigenous Australians living in remote areas are 2.4 times more likely to be hospitalised for respiratory diseases compared with those living in major cities. According to the Federal Government’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2023 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework, 65 Indigenous people per 1,000 are hospitalised in remote areas, compared to 27 per 1,000 in cities.

Asthma WA CEO, Anne Hallam, said the numbers were concerning, urging West Australians, in particular those First Nations people living in remote regions, to pay earlier attention to their lungs. Ms Hallam said the organisation often leant on funding sponsors to undertake regional trips, with the aim for teams to visit regional communities two to four times annually. “We’ll reach out to people in that region to come and see us. This might be for face-to-face education, yarning sessions or lung function testing,” she said.

Aboriginal Health Council WA Public Health Medical Officer, Dr Caitlyn White, said chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung problems, like asthma or bronchiectasis, can make people cough a lot, get short of wind or even feel very tired. “If you have a cough that doesn’t go away, feel short of wind, cough up phlegm or blood, or feel tired or weak, see your clinic for a check-up with your health worker, nurse or doctor,” she said. Asthma WA provided free personalised support for people living with respiratory conditions, including COPD and asthma.

To view the National Indigenous Times article Asthma WA issues respiratory disease warning for Indigenous communities in full click here.

ATSI man with asthma inhaler

Asthma WA is concerned about an increase in COPD hospitalisations in the Indigenous population. Photo: Asthma WA. Image source: Asthma WA.

First Nations Research Summit returns for sixth year

Charles Sturt University is building on its Research Strategy with meaningful engagement with First Nations Elders and communities to create culturally safe research. The First Nations Research Summit, titled ‘Placing Research: Working with Country’, was held at Charles Sturt in Wagga Wagga yesterday and today (9–10 November 2023). Senior Lecturer Dr Holly Randell-Moon and Lecturer Dr Nicholas Ruddell, both with the Charles Sturt School of Indigenous Australian Studies in Dubbo and Bathurst, respectively, were co-convenors of the event.

The first summit was held in 2015 and is part of Charles Sturt’s overall strategy to include First Nations as a core part of the University’s narrative and regional strength. “First Nations Research Summits have been convened to foster professional development for Charles Sturt University researchers to engage in culturally safe research with First Nations,” Dr Randell-Moon said. “By working in partnership with First Nations communities to the benefit of those and other communities, research is conducted by both First Nations and non-Indigenous staff with an underlying respect towards different knowledge sources, ways of doing and ways of being.”

The summit provided an interactive forum to discuss how Charles Sturt can respond to the needs of its local communities and agencies through research partnerships. The focus of this year’s summit was the University’s strategic research areas of health, cybersecurity and agriculture. Guest speakers talked about embedding First Nations knowledge and science into agricultural research practices, the role and the future of Indigenous health data for the profession and related data security concerns.

To view the Charles Sturt University article First Nations research summit returns for sixth year in full click here.

night photo of exterior of Charles Sturt University

Image source: iTWire.

Beyond violence: widening the view on women’s health

Bonney Corbin is Chair of the Australian Women’s Health Alliance, and Head of Policy and Research at MSI Australia, says the meeting of Australian Health Ministers today (10 November 2023) was an opportunity for all jurisdictions to commit to resourcing and sharing progress on the National Women’s Health Strategy and a wider focus on women’s health. Ms Corbin said women’s health policy in Australia has been a tumultuous journey. It has been only 60 years since all women have had the right to vote in Federal Government elections. It’s been 14 years since the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Health Strategy was published, without implementation funds. It has been only 10 years since a man appointed himself as the National Minister for Women, and in his first budget cut $80b to health and education expenditure over a decade.

Ms Corbin said that it was within this context that we learnt to rely upon the language of violence and vulnerability to be heard. We certainly have a lot to communicate in that language. In Australia almost 60 women have been killed this year. Structural racism brews following a referendum filled with misinformation. War and displacement affects our families and loved ones abroad. For decades we’ve rallied and reported about the perils of being a woman. We regularly share statistics on sexual violence, incarceration and homicide. We’ve shared heartfelt anecdotes about ongoing intersectional abuse, violence and discrimination.

It’s led to very important National Plans to End Violence Against Women and Their Children. We’ve seen increased investment in violence response helplines, refuges and support services. Women’s health is about more than our experiences of violence. Our health is also about things like access to education, housing, economic security. Women’s health is about connection to self, to Country, culture and kinship, to social and community supports. Our health is about autonomy to participate in democracy, advocacy and peacemaking. Community attitudes and our broader systems are gradually shifting. Backlash exists, but that is because we are at the start of an intergenerational process of gender-transformative change.

To view the Croakey Health Media article Beyond violence: widening the view on women’s health in full click here.

portrait shot of Bonney Corbin - Chair Australian Women's Health Alliance. Head of Policy Research, MSI Australia

Bonney Corbin – Chair Australian Women’s Health Alliance. Head of Policy Research, MSI Australia. Image source: ABC News.

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