NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: New report identifies key incarceration factors

feature tile image: ATSI hands gripping jail bars, superimposed with Aboriginal transparent flag; text 'New report finds mental health, poverty, family history and unemployment all key factors in incarceration'

The image in the feature tile is from an article Indigenous Australians’ incarceration Gap widens during the pandemic published  in the Public Health Association Australia’s blog Intouch Public Health on 18 March 2021.

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.

New report identifies key incarceration factors

More than half of prison entrants have previously been diagnosed with a mental health condition, and almost half expect to be homeless upon release, the sixth survey on the health of people in Australian prisons has found. The study also found that 36% (more than one third) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prison entrants reported that during their childhood, one or both parents or carers had spent time in prison. For non-Indigenous prisoners the rate was 15%. 42% of prison entrants aged 18–24 had a parent or carer in prison during their childhood.

Today the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released The health of people in Australia’s prisons 2022, which includes information gathered from 73 of 87 prisons across Australia (excluding Victoria) to develop “a comprehensive view of the health, wellbeing and social factors that affect people before, during and after time in prison”. AIHW spokesperson Amanda Donges noted that “many people in prison come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with poorer physical and mental health outcomes than the general population.” Nearly one-third of prison entrants had an education level of Year 9 or below. In the 30 days before entering prison, more than four in 10 (43%) were homeless, nearly half (46%) were unemployed and only one in 20 (5.1%) were studying.

Nearly half (48%) of prison dischargees expected to be homeless on release from prison, with 45% planning to sleep in short term or emergency accommodation and 2.8% expecting to sleep rough. Only 52% of prison dischargees had their own stable accommodation arranged. More than half of surveyed prison entrants (51%) reported a previous diagnosis of a mental health condition, including alcohol and other drug use disorders. Almost three quarters (73%) of prison entrants reported using illicit drugs at least once during the previous 12 months.

To view the National Indigenous Times article Mental health, poverty, family history and unemployment key factors in incarceration – new report in full click here.

inmates walking along walkway Lotus Glen Correctional Centre, N Qld

Lotus Glen Correctional Centre in northern Queensland. Photo: Daniel Soekov, Human Rights Watch, via AAP. Image source: National Indigenous Times.

Dialysis 900kms from home and family

When Robyn Neade isn’t strapped to a chair receiving life-saving dialysis treatment, she wanders around a strange city 100s of kms away from family and friends. The Indigenous Mount Isa resident is on the North West Hospital and Health Service’s (NWHHS) waiting list to access dialysis treatment back home.

But with no spots available she has had to move to a boarding house in Townsville, 900kms away, to receive treatment. She is terrified of dying alone without her loved ones by her side, “We have to go down to Townsville and wait for a seat to come back to Mount Isa — how many years is that [going to be]?” She is one of 30 people on the waiting list for a renal chair in Mount Isa. “We’ve got to be here in Townsville wishing that someone’s going to hurry up and die,”Ms Neade said.

Dialysis is used to treat chronic kidney disease by removing extra fluid and waste products from a patients’ blood. It’s an intensive treatment which patients must commit to for hours at a time, most days of the week. Ms Neade was completing dialysis treatment at home, but when her kidney issues worsened, she was forced to move to Townsville for treatment. “I miss my family, it’s very, very sad, it’s heartbreaking,” she said.

To view the ABC News story Renal patient Robyn Neade faces heartbreak of dialysis 900km from her Mount Isa home and family in full click here.

dialysis patient Robyn Neade, Mt Isa

Robyn Neade is scared she’ll die 900km from her loved ones. Image source: ABC News.

Coproduced research empowers communities

In a recent study published in Nature Medicine, researchers reviewed the evolution of health research co-production with Indigenous peoples, where a collaborative effort explores shared control and reciprocity in health research while examining the divergent aspects of Indigenous and Western knowledge systems, political and strategic differences, and ethical standards.

The concept of co-production has recently gained much attention in health research in a push to enhance health research outcomes through a process that is responsive to the participants and stakeholders. It fosters collaborations between health researchers and a wide range of stakeholders such as Indigenous peoples, patients and their families, service providers, communities, and the general public, and the design, analyses, dissemination, and evaluation of results is conducted through shared control.

The primary goal is to improve the meaningfulness and tangibility of the results from the outset for all the parties involved in the process. Co-production is also thought to enlarge the scope of the study and improve the possibility of uptake. The long history of colonisation of Indigenous communities has naturally resulted in a level of mistrust and suspicion among Indigenous researchers towards Western research methodologies. Furthermore, the structural nature of research design can also perpetuate discrimination and prejudice if conducted in an unethical and non-inclusive manner.

In the present study, the researchers discussed co-production as a distinct form of collaborative research, examined the evolution of co-production involving Indigenous peoples, reviewed some illustrative examples involving Indigenous peoples, such as the Indigenous Maori of NZ, and presented recommendations for effective and responsive methods of co-production with Indigenous peoples.

To view the News Medical Life Sciences article Empowering indigenous communities through coproduced health research in full click here.

Training researchers to take clinical measurements as part of the Next Generation study. L-R: Ricky Mentha (Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Bobby Porykali (The George Institute), Robyn Williams (University of Melbourne), Elizabeth Hillmann

Training researchers to take clinical measurements as part of the Next Generation study. L-R: Ricky Mentha (Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Bobby Porykali (The George Institute), Robyn Williams (University of Melbourne), Elizabeth Hillmann (The George Institute). Image source: University of Melbourne Pursuit.

Lowitja Institute CEO Victorian 2024 Australian of the Year

Narungga Kaurna woman Janine Mohamed, a pioneer for Indigenous healthcare, has been named Victoria’s 2024 Australian of the Year. Ms Mohamed has dedicated her life to fighting racism and improving health outcomes for Australia’s Indigenous communities. She has spent the last five years as CEO of the Lowitja Institute, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led community health research organisation based in Melbourne, and before that, she was CEO of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives.

While she refers to herself as an “accidental CEO”, her experience suggests otherwise — Ms Mohamed has worked for 25 years in nursing, health policy and Indigenous health and wellbeing research. Ms Mohamed said growing up in a mission in SA’s Point Pearce inspired her to pursue a career in healthcare. “I saw the amazing work of healthcare professionals, but I also saw the devastating work of health professionals and the missed opportunities,” she said. “I really wanted to understand that more.”

Ms Mohamed said her work has involved celebrating excellence in her community, but also has required her to talk about the “tough stuff”, which is racism. “It is something that our people have been asking for for a long time – it is the eradication of racism,” she said. “I think we have to understand what racism looks like and feels like and what it produces to be able to envision a different future. “For me, an amazing future would be that everyone is practising cultural safety and anti-racism.”

To view the ABC News article Indigenous healthcare pioneer Janine Mohamed takes out top honour as Victoria’s 2024 Australian of the Year in full click here.

Lowitja Institute CEO Janine Mohamed holding Australian of the Year for Victoria Award

Lowitja Institute CEO Janine Mohamed is the Australian of the Year for Victoria. Photo: NADC/Salty Dingo. Image source: ABC News.

VACCHO celebrates shawl project documentary launch

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) has launched a new documentary showcasing the staunch Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have brought the Beautiful Shawl Project to life over the past year, and their stories. The feature shares Aboriginal and Torres Strait women’s breast screening experiences in Victoria through the Beautiful Shawl Project. And includes personal insights from women who screened with the Beautiful Shawl Project – as well as those who carry out vital work increasing Community awareness and engagement around the Project.

Yesterday (14 November 2023) VACCHO paid tribute “to the many women who generously shared their stories, wisdom, and insight as part of this inspiring film”. The Beautiful Shawl Project is a collaborative program between VACCHO and BreastScreen Victoria. It is a Community-led initiative providing “safe and empowering” breast screening experiences for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in a culturally safe setting.

Since its launch in 2019, The Beautiful Shawl Project has worked in partnership with over 25 ACCHOs and other organisations with their Aboriginal-led teams to provide over 1000 lifesaving breast screens to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Of those screened, 29% were first time screeners and 39% were lapsed (overdue) at the time of their breast screen. VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher AO said The Beautiful Shawl Project documentary demonstrates the transformative health outcomes that can be achieved by culturally safe and responsive cancer screening initiatives.

You can view the National Indigenous Times article VACCHO celebrates launch of Beautiful Shawl Project Documentary on Indigenous health in full click here and watch the full documentary online here.

Aboriginal woman draped in Beautiful Shawl in front of Breast Screen pink bus

Beautiful Shawl art by Alkina Edwards, Yorta Yorta, Wemba Wemba, Mutti Mutti and Wiradjuri. Art Title: dj, which means Woman Shield. Photo: VACCHO. Image source: National Indigenous Times.

Parental stress and child asthma symptoms link

University of Queensland (UQ) research has shown a link between parental stress stemming from financial hardship and exacerbated asthma symptoms in children. Dr K M Shahunja from UQ’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health led a study that analysed the data of more than 3,900 children collected over 14 years in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Dr Shahunja said the study was the first in Australia to look at the association of psychosocial factors with asthma symptoms through longitudinal analyses of one- to 15-year-olds.

“People are generally aware that environmental factors like smoking, traffic pollution and allergens can trigger asthma symptoms, but perhaps don’t realise psychosocial stressors can also have a harmful effect,” Dr Shahunja said. “It’s important parents and health professionals understand the significant influence the psychosocial environment has on children and how stressors can exacerbate asthma symptoms. Further research is needed to develop effective strategies to address maternal depression, financial hardship, and parental stress for long-term asthma control in children.”

Dr Shahunja worked with co-authors Associate Professor Abdullah Mamun from UQ’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and Professor Peter Sly from UQ’s Child Health Research Centre.

To view The University of Queensland article Asthma symptoms more common in children with stressed parents in full click here.

young ATSI girl with blue puffer

Image: Asthma (Short Wind) information booklet developed by Telethon Kids Institute, Perth Children’s Hospital and the University of WA.

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