The latest publication from the Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet, a Review of sexual health issues linked with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males, which can be accessed hereconfirms that although the links between male sexual health and chronic conditions are well established, there is poor knowledge and awareness about these links among both health professionals and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males.
This review outlines the mounting evidence that erectile dysfunction (ED) can be a sign of future cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes. This has the potential to motivate males of all ages to seek help if they experience ED, and for health professionals to become skilled in discussing sexual health with patients. This requires further consideration of cultural factors for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males and the social and historical context in which their health and wellbeing exists.
You can access the Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNetmedia release about the review here, an infographic Summary of the key information contained in the review here, a factsheet here and a short video below.
Feature tile artwork When the freshwater meets the saltwater by Bec Morgan taken from the Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNetSummary of sexual health links with chronic disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males.
The HIV/AIDS story – Forty years on
Forty years ago this month (on July 3, 1981) a story in The New York Times made the paper’s first mention of a disease baffling doctors.
“Rare cancer seen in 41 homosexuals,” said the headline, atop a story buried on page 20. “The cause of the outbreak is unknown, and there is as yet no evidence of contagion.”
The story followed the publication on June 5, 1981 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of an MMRW report of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in five previously healthy young men in Los Angeles, California, of whom two had already died. This report later was acknowledged as the first published scientific account of what would become known as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
In Australia, research from the Kirby Institute shows that the broad availability of the HIV-prevention drug tenofovir with emtricitabine (known as PrEP) reduced HIV transmissions in New South Wales by 40 percent, to an all-time low, in the period 2016 to 2019. However, the researchers warned that the elimination of HIV in Australia will require better adherence to PrEP among young people.
The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations has produced a report that says Australia can end HIV transmission in the country by 2025. You can read the “Agenda 2025” report here.
The full story by Associate Professor Lesley Russell can be viewed in Croakey Health Mediahere.
Scanning electromicrograph of an HIV-infected T cell. Credit: NIAID
Bardi Jawi woman’s diabetes story
This short video aims to raise awareness of diabetes among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The video features Cecelia Tigan, a Bardi Jawi woman from Djarindjin in the Kimberley region of WA. Cecelia explains how she was first diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy and how she now lives with type 2 diabetes. Cecelia says her diabetes remained after giving birth to her fourth child. Cecelia explains that she is worried about the young children in her community with the availability of junk foods and how the consumption of sweets and junk food is putting them at risk of diabetes.
Ways to strengthen mental health workforce
New research by Charles Darwin University (CDU) scholars suggests a strengthened Indigenous mental health workforce could effectively improve mental health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
The report, written by Prof Dominic Upton, Assoc Prof Linda Ford, Prof Ruth Wallace, Sarah Jackson, Jenna Richard from CDU and Dr Penney Upton from the University of Canberra, finds that an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led mental health workforce would promote self-determination and increase the reach of mental health services by providing culturally competent services.
Mental health services delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals are considered more culturally safe and trustworthy.
Read the article by Charles Darwin Universityhere.
Illustration of chat between psychologist and patient. Image credit: flourishaustralia.org.au
Spurring next generation of Indigenous dentists
A new partnership between the Australian Dental Association New South Wales (ADA NSW) and the Indigenous Dentists’ Association of Australia (IDAA) will explore how to improve oral health outcomes for—and inspire—the next generation of Indigenous dental practitioners.
“Only 0.4 per cent of employed dental professionals in Australia are Indigenous, according to the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Oral Health and Dental Care in Australia report,” ADA NSW president Dr Kathleen Matthews said.
“More than 60 per cent of Indigenous patients aged 35-54 have signs of gum disease and almost one-third of Indigenous adults rate their oral health as poor or fair.
“We believe this partnership with ADA NSW is, given our shared values and purpose, another important step towards improving overall health and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
A Boggabillia Central School student shows how to brush your teeth. Credit ABC News.
Climate change and food shortages
Surging consumer food prices are a growing global problem, making food staples in many countries unaffordable. An Oxfam report just out says that world hunger rose steeply in 2020, with six times more people living in “famine-like conditions” than in 2019. Oxfam calculates that 11 people a minute are likely to be dying from acute hunger, compared to seven people a minute from COVID-19.
A new FAO report on global food security has just been released, estimating that between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020 – as many as 161 million more than in 2019. “The high cost of healthy diets and persistently high levels of poverty and income inequality continue to keep healthy diets out of reach for around three billion people in every region of the world,” it says.
A 2019 UN report outlined how extreme weather as a result of climate change, combined with loss of agricultural land and the mismanagement of water resources, will shrink the global food supply. The potential risk of “multi-breadbasket failure” was seen as a particular threat.
There’s a raft of reports that highlight what climate change means for food production, availability and prices in Australia. In addition, as noted in a 2015 report from the Climate Council, Australia’s food supply chains are vulnerable to extreme weather events.
This week, public health researchers have underscored the urgency of addressing food security issues for children, warning food insecurity should be understood as a form of trauma.
One issue highlighted is that food security is not measured regularly or consistently at a population level. Estimates suggest that between 4 percent and 13 percent of the general population and 22 percent to 32 percent of the Indigenous population are food insecure.
The full story by Associate Professor Lesley Russell can be viewed in Croakey Health Mediahere.
Red, black and yellow food arranged like the Aboriginal flag. Image credit: preventioncentre.org.au.
New process for job advertising
NACCHO have introduced a new system for the advertising of job adverts via the NACCHO website and you can find the sector job listings here.
Click here to go to the NACCHO website where you can complete a form with job vacancy details – it will then be approved for posting and go live on the NACCHO website.
Dr Dawn Casey, Deputy CEO NACCHO and Co-Chair Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19 spoke on NITV-The Point on Tuesday 8 June about the latest rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, its take up and hesitancy, and the Victorian lockdown.
“There are just over 65,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been vaccinated with their first dose so far. There was hesitancy when the announcements around the issues that AstraZeneca was not suitable for under 50s, but the numbers have started to pick up.”
“There has been no blood clots for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recorded.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are now eligible to receive the vaccines, including those aged 16 and over. Speak to your healthcare worker to find out more.
You can view the interview below or by clicking here.
or information on the vaccines, visit the Australian Government Department of Health website.
The AMA has today called for a tax on sugary drinks as a key plank of its plan to tackle chronic disease and make Australiathe healthiest country in the world.
In his address to the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday, AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said that Australia lags behind comparable nations in health outcomes and disease prevention, and it was ‘time for action’ to reduce consumption of sugar-filled drinks.
“More than 2.4 billion litres of sugary drinks are consumed every year in Australia. That’s enough to fill 960 Olympic sized swimming pools,” Dr Khorshid said.
“Diabetes, obesity and poor vascular health are huge contributors to the burden on our health system. The tax could save lives, and save millions of dollars in healthcare costs,” he said.
The tax proposed in the AMA’s report released yesterday would raise the retail price of the average supermarket sugary drink by 20%. This would be an important first step towards tackling obesity and raise revenue to take further steps.
The AMA’s call for a tax on sugary drinks is part of its new blueprint for a robust, sustainable health system – beyond the pandemic – with high quality, patient-centred care at its heart. The Vision for Australia’s Health, also launched yesterday, calls for reform around five policy pillars – general practice, public hospitals, private health, equity and innovation.
View The Vision for Australia’s Health plane here.
View the A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages: Modelled impacts on sugar consumption and government revenue report here.
AMA – Vision for Australia’s Health report – 5 pillars.
Restoration to guide health reforms
The Aotearoa New Zealand Government has announced sweeping reforms for the nation’s health system.
They have been welcomed by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) ‘as a health system structure seeking to live its commitments’ to the Treaty of Waitangi and refusing any longer to ‘tolerate the health inequities experienced by our Māori and Pasifika whanau’.
Dr Sandra Hotu, Chair of the RACP Māori Health Committee, and Dr George Laking, RACP Aotearoa New Zealand President, outline the changes and their implications for improving health and health systems, for both Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.
Together with an ethic of restoration, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand must look to a practice of partnership informed by the stories and experiences of our First Nations. Partnership must be tangible. It must be expressly lived as a solution space lead by Indigenous voices, rather than a problem space. Partnership is informing the refresh of Closing the Gap 2019–2029, as described in the partnership agreement between the Community Controlled Peak Organisations and the National Federation Reform Council.
As Alex Brown and Eddie Mulholland wrote on Croakey in 2020, the agreement for power-sharing represents a “critical moment for genuine engagement between Australian governments and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs)”.
The vision of the ACCHOs – ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people enjoy quality of life through whole-of-community self-determination and individual spiritual, cultural, physical, social and emotional well-being’ resonates with the intent of the Māori Health Authority. This is because the rationale for each is so closely aligned: racism in healthcare as well as the need for culturally safe services to address health inequity.
You can read the article at Croakey Health Media here.
Aboriginal kids washing their hands. Image credit The Conversation.
Better health literacy for better equity
New survey findings show a significant number of consumers need to be supported to feel more in control of their health care. The report, commissioned from the Consumers Health Forum (CHF) by NPS MedicineWise, defines and measures health literacy in Australia. It also identifies gaps which are preventing people from accessing the best possible health care.
“Health literacy is core to us delivering more equitable health outcomes,” said Leanne Wells, CEO of CHF.
The survey of more than 1,500 respondents found that approximately one in five consumers:
Rarely or never felt comfortable asking their doctor, pharmacist or nurse when they needed more information.
Rarely or never felt comfortable asking the health professional to explain anything they didn’t understand.
Found the information a health professional gave them always or often confusing.
“We need to increase consumers’ capacity to manage and feel in control of their health care, including around medicines. It’s really important that we strive to improve medicines literacy because we know people at higher risk of medication-related harm are people with multiple conditions, people who are taking lots of medications and people with English as a second language,” said Ms Wells.
You can view the New survey results shine a light on health literacy in Australia media release here.
You can read the Consumer Health Literacy Segmentation and Activation Research Project report here.
Artwork competition: ear and hearing health
Calling all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists aged 13 years or older!
NACCHO invites you to design an artwork about how important ear and hearing health is within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The winning artwork will receive a $500 voucher prizeand will be used across Australia for NACCHOs National Ear and Hearing health program.
The winning artwork will be used on merchandise, stationary and promotional materials to celebrate current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievements, across Australia.
Click here to submit your artwork and for conditions of entry.
All entries must be submitted by: 21 July 2021.
NDIS Ready grant round closing soon
Attention all Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations!
NDIS Ready Indigenous Business Support Funding (IBSF) ACCO round grant applications are CLOSING SOON!
Grants are available to help up to 100 eligible ACCHOs and ACCOs address the basic establishment costs, and business and technical challenges in registered and delivering services under the NDIS and to equip themselves to operate more effectively long-term under the NDIS model.
Information on the grant and how to apply can be found on the IBSF website.
Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo was a Torres Strait Islander who believed Australian laws on land ownership were wrong and fought to change them. He was born in 1936 on Mer, which is also known as Murray Island, in the Torres Strait.
In 1982 a legal land ownership case was lodged with the High Court of Australia by a group of Meriam from the Eastern Torres Strait Islands, led by Eddie Mabo.
The Mabo decision was a legal case that ran for 10 years. On 3 June 1992, the High Court of Australia decided that ‘terra nullius’ should not have been applied to Australia.
Sadly, Eddie Mabo passed away in January 1992, just five months before the High Court made its decision.
The Mabo decision was a turning point for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights because it acknowledged their unique connection with the land.
It also led to the Australian Parliament passing the Native Title Act in 1993.
For more information about Mabo Day visit the National Museum of Australia website here.
Eddie Mabo NACCHO graphic. Original photo by: Jim McEwan.
Mandatory reporting of influenza vaccinations
The National Immunisation Program (NIP) wants to remind all Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services about the importance of checking expiration dates of vaccines, disposing of out of date stock and reporting accurate data to the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR).
It is mandatory under the Australian Immunisation Register Act 2015 for all vaccination providers to report all influenza vaccinations administered on or after 1 March 2021 to the AIR.
A recent incident reported by a General Practice, where some 2020 influenza stock was found among 2021
influenza stock, prompted the Australian Government Department of Health (the Department) to investigate a range of circumstances that may have led to this, including checking data reported to AIR.
This investigation concluded that there was no 2020 stock in state and territory vaccine warehouses, however there were a high number of vaccines, with 2020 influenza batch numbers, reported to the AIR as being administered this influenza season (2021).
We ask that you remind all staff to double check expiration dates of vaccines prior to administration, dispose of out of date stock appropriately and that you encourage all staff at your practice to double check the information being reported to the AIR is correct prior to submitting it to AIR.
A letter with a copy of the above information can be downloaded here.
Please download a fact sheet outlining the mandatory reporting obligations for vaccination providers, and helpful tips for reporting to the AIR here.
Vaccines. Image credit: Dallas News.
Women living remotely must travel for birth
Heavily pregnant women living in remote and regional areas across Australia are being forced to pack their bags and head to hospital to wait for the birth of their babies, far away from family, culture, community, and connection.
Women’s health experts say this experience is traumatic for expectant parents and expensive for governments, but that the answer is simple: open more culturally safe birthing centres outside of big cities.
Women who live outside of the four major birthing hubs in the NT (Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine and Nhulunbuy) need to travel to the nearest hospital at 38 weeks to wait for their baby to be born. For most of these women, English is not their first language, and some don’t speak English at all. Most women travel alone and although they are offered a translator in hospital, one is not always available.
Charles Darwin University professor of midwifery Sue Kildea labelled Northern Territory Health’s remote birthing policy as “outrageous”.
“Why do they send women by themselves? We don’t even let them take their kids with them,” she said.
“It’s the one thing that we should be so ashamed of.”
Experts are calling for more regional birthing hubs to fill the gap.
Judy Mununggrruitj lives in Galiwin’ku, a remote community in East Arnhem Land.(ABC News: Emma Vincent).
Expanding birth centres to remote NT 5+ years away
Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles says the government is looking at returning birthing facilities to remote and regional locations, and hopes to do so within the next decade.
“It’s a huge step to take forward, but I think it’s an important step,” she said.
Ms Fyles said investing in birthing on country services was a “priority” and NT Health was working toward developing a Territory-specific birthing on country model.
But not everyone’s convinced returning birthing to remote locations is the way forward.
Worimi woman Marilyn Clarke is the chair of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Health Committee.
She said returning low-risk birth to remote communities could “be a bit tricky”, because if there was an unexpected complication, mother and baby were far away from emergency care.
Dr Clarke also said staffing remote hubs would be challenging and the NT had long-running issues recruiting and retaining health workers.
Instead, she said governments should invest in strong, Indigenous-led pre- and post-natal care in remote and regional locations.
You can read more about this story on ABC News here.
Remote NT. Image source: Croakey Health Media.
Remote ENT service delivery model
The Rural and Remote Health journal has done a rapid literature review aimed to inform the development of a new sustainable, evidence-based service delivery model for ear, nose and throat (ENT) services across Cape York, Australia. This work seeks to investigate the research question ‘What are the characteristics of successful outreach services which can be applied to remote living Indigenous children?’
A comprehensive search of three major electronic databases (PubMed, CINAHL and MEDLINE) and two websites (HealthInfo Net and Google Scholar) was conducted for peer-reviewed and grey literature, to elicit characteristics of ENT and hearing services in rural and remote Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. The search strategy was divided into four sections: outreach services for rural and remote communities; services for Indigenous children and families; telehealth service provision; and remote ear and hearing health service models. A narrative synthesis was used to summarise the key features of the identified service characteristics.
In total, 71 studies met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review, which identified a number of success and sustainability traits, including employment of a dedicated ear and hearing educator; outreach nursing and audiology services; and telehealth access to ENT services. Ideally, outreach organisations should partner with local services that employ local Indigenous health workers to provide ongoing ear health services in community between outreach visits.
The evidence suggests that sound and sustainable ENT outreach models build on existing services; are tailored to local needs; promote cross-agency collaboration; use telehealth; and promote ongoing education of the local workforce.
On Duty: Kelvin Kong treats a patient in Broome in 2015. Picture: Simone De Peak.
Soft drink ads hit ‘vulnerable’
What keeps consumers hooked on high sugar soft drink? Advertising, of course. But why are some consumers more adept at ignoring these cues than others?
A new study from Flinders University, has found participants with an automatic bias towards soft drinks – or difficulty resisting sweet drinks compared to non-sweetened control beverages (e.g., water) – are more responsive to the advertisements than those without these tendencies.
The Australian study compared the ability of 127 university-age students (18-25 year olds) to withstand or succumb to the urge to reach for a soft drink when viewing television advertisements.
Not only can regular soft drink consumption lead to weight gain and tooth decay, with a typical 375ml can of soft drink contain about 10 teaspoons of sugar, but so can these ’empty’ calories reduce intake of calcium, fibre and other nutrients in a healthy diet.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015) research estimated 50-60% of adolescent and young people consume soft drink every day.
“The cognitive vulnerabilities exposed in our study is an important lesson to future possible regulation of television advertising or public health campaigns,” says co-author Amber Tuscharski.
“After all, their exposure to soft drink cues will continue as manufacturers and marketers advertise their products in multiple locations – from TV commercials to in-store, service stations, public transport and billboards.”
Lead Researcher Flinders University Professor of Psychology Eva Kemps on fizzy drinks.
Ways to support healthy foods in remote stores
Monash University invites you to join in their HEALTHY STORiES = GOOD FOOD inaugural event to share remote community stores and takeaway advances through film for improved health. This live online series features stories from remote communities and leaders on ways to support healthy foods in remote community stores.
HEALTHY STORiES = GOOD FOOD addresses the issue of food security and aims to foster critical discussion towards health-enabling stores. It is a celebration and sharing of initiatives, whilst acknowledging barriers and having a focus on a food secure future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remote communities.
Please share with other remote store owners, community leaders and members, government policy-makers, health workers, academics, and practitioners who have a passion for thriving and healthy community stores.
3 June (11:30am – 12:30pm AEDT)Webinar 1:Remote Stores: Healthy Takeaways I Employment opportunities 15 June (12:30 – 1:30pm AEDT)Webinar 2:Food supply, delivery, local food economies 16 June (12:30 – 1:30pm AEDT)Webinar 3:Food affordability and pricing for healthy food 17 June (12:30 – 1:30pm AEDT)Webinar 4:The 4P’s of marketing for healthy food in stores
Facilitator of the online series: Ms Nicole Turner, Indigenous Allied Health Australia & NSW Rural Doctors Network
After a busy start to the year, Easter provided Broome Regional Aboriginal Medical Service’s (BRAMS) staff with the opportunity to take a break and refresh. BRAMS continues to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to the local community, and more than 150 patients have received the jab so far, with no side effects being reported. We strongly encourage all our patients to come into the clinic to discuss their vaccine, particularly if you have concerns or questions.
We are excited to announce yet another expansion of our disability services, through a supported mobile playgroup program for children aged 0-14.
We have also commenced the recruitment process for our Chronic Disease Program, and we look forward to updating you in our next newsletter on the newest members of the team.
Finally, look out for us on your TV screens – we recently filmed our first television advertisement, and can’t wait to see the final product. A big thank you to all staff and patients who took part in the filming.
Please view the latest edition of the BRAMS newsletter here.
The recent National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Conference (NATSIEHC) 2021 — The Gap and Beyond, had a welcome and critical focus on community-led eye care, according to Simone Kenmore, the newly appointed Country Manager of the Indigenous Australia Program at The Fred Hollows Foundation.
Kenmore emphasised the importance of listening to family and community leaders to drive two-way learning approaches in eye care and the urgent need to grow an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health workforce, as well as to invest in Aboriginal community controlled health services, saying “the eye health sector in Australia has a role and responsibility to strengthen the eye health knowledge of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The clinical expertise in the eye health sector in Australia is world class, but critically we are missing the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.”
Simone Kenmore with her Aunties in Alice Springs. Image source: Croakey. Image in feature tile from ANZSOG.
Community control success at WAMS
Reducing the COVID-19 risk to community members was a big focus through the pandemic for the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (WAMS), which also stepped up to address a range of related challenges, including big concerns about food security for the NSW community.
WAMS CEO Christine Corby OAM said her service took many approaches to reduce the risk of local people getting COVID-19, especially vulnerable Elders and people with multiple health issues. Initiatives included a hand washing song which was taught in schools and used in the mobile children’s service; addressing complicated food supply issues; accessing personal protective equipment, developing and distributing care packs; and delivering scripts.
Items from the WAMS care package distributed to community members during the pandemic. Image source: Croakey.
Eating disorder stereotypes plague treatment
Indigenous Australians are just as likely to experience eating disorders as others within the wider community but a perception the illness is only prevalent among white girls is hampering diagnosis and treatment. The Butterfly Foundation, the national charity for eating disorders, has found one in 10 Indigenous Australians will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime and 30% of Indigenous young people are concerned about body image. These figures mirror the trends of non-Indigenous Australians.
Butterfly Foundation marketing coordinator Camilla Becket said its EveryBODY is Deadly campaign was trying to raise awareness about eating disorders among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. “We wanted to address this pervasive stigma that eating disorders only affect privileged young white women,” Ms Becket said. To view the article in full click here.
Garra Mundine said no one recognised that she had an eating disorder because of the perception it was for “privileged white girls”. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen. Image source: The Sydney Morning Herald.
Budget opportunity to create a fairer future
The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) today called on the Morrison Government to use tomorrow’s Budget as an opportunity to create a fairer future by supporting priorities outlined by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS). Dr Emma Campbell, ACTCOSS CEO, said: “This Federal Budget provides an opportunity for investment that not only drives economic recovery but also reduces disadvantage and inequality. ACTCOSS calls on the Australian Government to prioritise investment that will create a fairer future for all Australians.”
ACTCOSS’s top three priorities for the ACT in the Federal Budget are: investment in the community service sector to generate jobs while supporting those facing disadvantage; significantly increased investment in social housing; and better support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to achieve self-determination.
Scene from John Pilger documentary, Utopia. Image source: newmatilda.com.
RHD the silent killer
Katherine’s Sunrise Health Service Aboriginal Corporation Chair Anne Marie Less claims the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health will never be closed until the deadliest of diseases is approached differently. “I have been a Senior Aboriginal Health Practitioner for over 14 years and I am acutely aware of the impact of Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) on our communities in the NT. Under the guidance of NT Cardiac, Menzies School of Health and Top End Health Service I have been learning to perform echocardiograms on young people in remote communities across the Top End and sadly in every community we detect 5-10% of the young population with previously undiagnosed RHD – some with the damage to their heart valves so advanced that it requires immediate surgery.
“Mostly it goes undetected and the only way we find out that someone has had rheumatic heart disease is when they drop dead on the playing field from a heart attack or die when they are pregnant. For most, they and their families never knew they had RHD. “Sadly, the only way to detect the presence of RHD is to listen for a heart murmur caused by leaking heart valves. The common practice is to listen for this using a stethoscope which unfortunately misses 40% or more of cases. The only true way to detect RHD is through an echocardiogram which uses a device no larger than a shaver to perform an ultrasound on the heart and clearly shows whether a heart valve is leaking or not.”
To view Sunrise Health Service’s media release in full click here.
Rheumatic Heart Disease patient, Trey, receives a handheld echo scan in Manigrida. Image source: Katherine Times.
United opposition to NT legislation
All 14 Australian and NZ Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ANZCCG) have united in opposing new legislation introduced by the NT Government, which proposes to alter the NT’s Youth Justice Act and Bail Act. The commissioners and guardians wrote to NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner in March expressing their concerns about the legislation and asking him to reconsider his approach. Their letter said the proposed changes are “regressive” and “signal a shift away from evidence-based policy approaches and directly unwind the implementation of key recommendations from the 2017 Royal Commission”. National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds said, “All the evidence tells us the best way to prevent youth offending is to divert young people away from the justice system and into alternative programs that offer the support they need.
To view the ANZCCG and Australian Human Rights Commission media release in full click here.
Don Dale youth detention centre. Photo: Jane Bardon. Image source: ABC News website.
Federal Senator Malarndirri McCarthy has also voiced concern about controversial changes to the NT’s youth bail laws, calling on her local Labor colleagues to rethink the plan to fast-track the reforms. The government wants its changes passed through NT Parliament less than a week after the bill was made public and despite questions from legal groups about apparent problems with the draft legislation.
Labor has the backing of NT Police and the police union for measures it says will cut youth crime, but has faced widespread criticism for reversing changes made after the youth detention royal commission. On Monday, Ms McCarthy told ABC Alice Springs she had requested a briefing and raised concerns with the NT government. “I do think the issues being raised by stakeholders in the Northern Territory and indeed nationally about being careful about the incarceration of children and in particular First Nations children is something that the government needs to look closely at,” she said.
Senator Malarndirri McCarthy says she has raised her concerns with the NT government. Photo: Mitch Woolnough. Image source: ABC News website.
Impact of racism on oral health
Interpersonal racism has had a profound impact on Indigenous populations globally, manifesting as negative experiences and discrimination at an individual, institutional and systemic level. Interpersonal racism has been shown to negatively influence a range of health outcomes but has received limited attention in the context of oral health.
A recent study has examined the effects of experiences of interpersonal racism on oral health-related quality of life (OHRQoL) among Indigenous South Australians. Identifying this link adds weight to the importance of addressing OHRQoL among South Australian’s Indigenous population by implementing culturally-sensitive strategies to address interpersonal racism.
Strong and healthy futures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people requires engagement in meaningful decision making which is supported by evidence-based approaches. While a significant number of research publications state the research is co-designed, few describe the research process in relation to Indigenous ethical values. Improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and babies is crucial to the continuation of the oldest living culture in the world.
Developing meaningful supports to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers to quit smoking during pregnancy is paramount to addressing a range of health and wellbeing outcomes. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have called for non-pharmacological approaches to smoking cessation during pregnancy. A recent project Building an Indigenous-Led Evidence Base for Smoking Cessation Care among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women during Pregnancy and Beyond: Research Protocol for the Which Way? has used a culturally responsive research protocol, co-designed by and co-owned with urban and regional Aboriginal communities in NSW.
Image source: South Western Sydney Local Health District webpage.
ACT – Canberra – Australian Medical Association
Policy Advisor (Indigenous Health) x 1 FT – Canberra
Advance your career with the AMA and be part of the team advocating improvements to Australia’s health system and achieving positive change on behalf of its member doctors and the wider community.
Based in Canberra, the Policy Adviser will be a member of the Public Health team and:
manage the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health portfolio and support AMA’s ongoing advocacy towards Closing the Gap and ensuring better health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
provide Secretariat leadership to the AMA Taskforce on Indigenous Health, as well as in campaigns advocating related improvements to the health care system
provide support in AMA’s policy and advocacy work to improve Australia’s mental health system, including reviewing reports, government engagement, and providing support to the AMA Mental Health Committee
draft accurate and well-written policy positions, statements, submissions media responses and campaign material
oversee the management of the AMA Indigenous Medical Scholarship and coordination of support for scholarship recipients
To view the position description and to apply click here.You should submit your application within the next couple of weeks.
While Liverpool became a COVID-19 hotspot during the pandemic, not one case was recorded at the Gandangara clinic. Medical adviser to NACCHO, Jason Agostino, said Indigenous leadership was critical in this achievement. “All the ACCHOs across the country have just been really incredible in getting messages out to their communities about how to stay safe in the initial part of the pandemic and in those spots where there have been outbreaks, places in Melbourne, in Brisbane, have just been exceptional in supporting their communities and keeping them safe,” he said. “So it’s been a whole bunch of things all put together but at the heart of it is leadership by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
The second phase of the nation’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out started today with 33 ACCHOs being the first to administer the jab, including the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council’s health service in Liverpool, in Sydney’s south-west.
But questions remain within the community about the vaccine. “A lot of them are saying yes, a lot of them are just not sure,” said Dunghutti elder and Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council board member Aunty Gail Smith. Aunty Gail, who’s worked in the health industry for almost 40 years, said despite the community’s low case numbers the pandemic had had a huge impact. “It was a big strain because they couldn’t go out or meet their families, a lot of us come from country areas we couldn’t go there as well,” she said. “I think it’s been tough across the board for everybody… but now we’re slowly getting back to it. I encourage everyone if they could, it’s up to them, [but] if its gonna help our community and our people, why not, because we’re survivors and we want to survive for our next generations as well.”
Dunghutti Elder and Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council board member Aunty Gail Smith. Image source: ABC News website.
Kimberley Aboriginal Health Research Alliance launched
Kimberley-based Aboriginal community-controlled and government health services, research institutes and universities have united to form the Kimberley Aboriginal Health Research Alliance (KAHRA) with the objective of improving and promoting the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people in the Kimberley through the development and application of practical health research. This collaboration combines the power of research to drive evidence-based change, the commitment of regional health services, and the vast cultural knowledge and strength of communities.
The development of collaborative projects utilising the strengths of the Alliance will seek to drive change to health outcomes, policy and services within the Kimberley and ultimately improve health outcomes of Kimberley Aboriginal community members. KAHRA has already seen unprecedented collaboration across health services in the region, with a collective voice advocating for better use of data to inform health service delivery in the region. Work has begun on a project to enable health services and researchers to see the full picture of disease burden in the region.
KAMS CEO Vicki O’Donnell speaking at the launch of KAHRA.
Rhetoric and action gap needs to close
As communities across Australia mark National Close the Gap Day, leaders of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), the Uniting Church and UnitingCare Australia have come together to call for enduring reforms to support self-determination and tangible outcomes for First Peoples. According to Pastor Mark Kickett, UAICC Interim Chair, “after 13 years of Closing the Gap, it is time to turn rhetoric into real action that genuinely empowers First Peoples and delivers lasting benefits.
Pastor Kickett continued, “the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap has the potential to be a gamechanger. But we are yet to see the structural change and funding commitments needed to achieve real reform, and pressure needs to be kept on governments to maintain their commitments and to apply the principles of reform that they signed off in 2020. Real change requires more than words and minor policy tinkering. It requires closing the gap between rhetoric and action. And it requires enduring structural and constitutional reform to empower First Peoples to take leadership in their affairs, in true partnership with government. The response of our communities to COVID-19 demonstrated the benefits of community-led action and the enduring resilience, creativity, and decisiveness of First Peoples leaders and governance.”
Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer said the Uniting Church lamented with First Peoples the ongoing health inequality, lack of self-determination, experiences of racism, high incarceration rates and the tragic prevalence of preventable deaths in custody. Dr Palmer said investing in solutions led by First Peoples was key to Closing the Gap.
Mutitjulu elders at Uluru. Photo by Jimmy Widders Hunt. Image source: BBC News.
Aged care fails remote communities
For the last five years, Mary Dadbalag, aged in her 90s and confined to a wheelchair, has been living in a tent on a verandah in the NT remote community of Jibena. For the last three years, her granddaughter Jacqueline Phillips has been knocking on every government service provider’s door she can think of asking for help to get her grandmother a bedroom built with a toilet attached. She said her grandmother is living in the tent at the edge of what she described as a “chicken house” because she can’t get to the nearest toilet 20 metres away over grass in her wheelchair, but she can shuffle to the edge of the verandah.
“It’s upsetting, not healthy and not hygienic. Like, her tent is just right next to where she does her toilets. She’s a great, great, great-grandmother, one of the last elders of our region and she’s just not being respected.” Ms Phillips is worried her grandmother may continue to fall through the cracks. “There needs to be better aged care services, especially for the people on the homelands,” she said. “We really need the federal government to listen to the very remote communities and provide that service, it’s human rights.”
Mary Dadbalag has been living in a tent on the veranda of a makeshift home. Image source: ABC News.
High youth detention FASD rates acknowledged
Danila Dilba Health Service has welcomed the release of the Senate’s report on effective approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and support for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) (17 March 2021). Danila Dilba provides comprehensive primary health services within the Darwin/Palmerston region, including to many children and families impacted by FASD or other neurodevelopmental impairments. The release of the Senate’s report the day before National Close The Gap Day provides a timely reminder of the tangible ways the government can fulfil its commitment to address the health gap between First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians.
The report highlights the need to incorporate FASD prevention, assessment, and management into a comprehensive primary health care model. In particular, the Senate Committee recognises the importance of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) like Danila Dilba in delivering culturally appropriate, holistic care to families affected by FASD.
Danila Dilba’s Head of Clinical Governance, Dr Andrew Webster, gave evidence to the inquiry about the lack of culturally appropriate assessment, therapeutic interventions, and support for children with FASD and their families, “ACCHOs can provide a ‘one-stop shop’ within a trusted service rather than families having to go through the process of diagnosis and therapy with multiple providers. Sadly, due to the barriers to assessment, many children suffering from FASD or other impairments do not get a diagnosis, and so are unable to receive the supports that they need. It is these children that we then unfortunately see coming to the attention of the child protection and justice systems.”
To view Danila Dilba’s media release in full click here.
Image source: The Conversation.
International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Yesterday the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) celebrated the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and called upon Canberrans to reflect on their personal responsibility in combatting racism. “This year’s theme is ‘Youth standing up against Racism’, and it is an opportunity to reflect on the power that young people have in shifting narratives and creating change, both online and in person,” said ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell. “Over the past year, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought racism to the forefront of global conversation. In Australia it drew attention to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our justice system, and reignited conversations about racism and implicit bias more broadly.”
To view the ACTCOSS media release in full click here.
Diabetes management in Aboriginal communities webinar
The first webcast session of a four-part series of interprofessional webinars focusing on Diabetes management in an Aboriginal community will be held from 12:30–1:30 PM this Thursday 25 March 2021.
The webcast, Prevention and Control of Type-2 Diabetes in Aboriginal Communities: Changing Dietary, Activity and Lifestyle Patterns will explore evidence-based approaches and practical strategies for nutrition, exercise, lifestyle and behaviour changes to support the prevention and management of diabetes in Aboriginal people. Barriers and solutions to improving engagement with Aboriginal communities will also be discussed.
Diabetes is a complex condition that can impact people in different ways. It has a significant impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This webcast provides an overview of the prevalence of diabetes in the Aboriginal population, discusses risk factors for early diabetes detection and focuses on the key lifestyle behaviours for the prevention and management of diabetes. Key nutritional considerations relating to the use of whole foods, fibre, carbohydrates and how to shop on a budget will be discussed. Further to this, stress management, importance of sleep, exercise, flexibility and ways to reduce sedentary behaviour will be covered. The presenters will also discuss their local Aboriginal community group programs, including culturally safe practices.
For more information you can download an event flyer here and register here.
Racism within the NSW public health service has been identified as a key barrier for Aboriginal people trying to access medical care. A state parliamentary inquiry into remote, rural and regional healthcare has been given examples of Aboriginal residents who say they have been mistreated and disrespected. The submissions state that this is the reason why Aboriginal people do not always trust or feel safe in the public health service.
The CEO of the Orange Aboriginal Medical Service (OAMS), Jamie Newman and the spokeswoman, Ariane Dozer for the civil rights and legal service, National Justice Project say there are still racist attitudes among some staff, despite the rollout of cultural sensitivity programs, awareness campaigns and training. “What we would like to see is health services dedicated to working with the local Aboriginal communities to develop strong localised models for culturally safe care because not all Aboriginal communities are the same,” said Ms Dozer.
The way Aboriginal health services are funded is also a key issue. “The levels of funding have to change, the length of funding has to change,” said Mr Newman. He said that unlike the public health system, Aboriginal medical services in NSW have a three-year funding cycle. “We can’t recruit GPs, specialists, allied health services when we only guarantee a three-year contract based on the funding arrangements. We’re not going to get health outcomes in the next three years. We’re talking about generational change over 10–15 years and if we don’t have that approach we will fail in the next three years to Close the Gap.”
A related article says the state parliamentary inquiry has been told racist attitudes within the NSW public health system are stopping Indigenous people from seeking medical help. The Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council says figures show Indigenous patients are five times more likely to discharge themselves early from hospital. Ariane Dozer from the National Justice Project says First Nations people did not trust the public health service, which they said had provided them with “derogatory” and “degrading” treatment. [They are] essentially dismissed and turned away without proper assessment,” she said. “People’s individual concerns and views of their concerns and their suffering can be ignored.”
Thousands of protesters took to the streets chanting “Black Lives Matter” in June last year, exasperated at high incarceration rates and deaths in custody. But this was 10,000 miles from New York, Washington and Los Angeles, on the other side of the globe – in Australia. While conservative PM Scott Morrison claimed the protests Down Under showed there was a risk of “importing the things that are happening overseas,” for Linda Burney, the first Indigenous woman elected to the nation’s lower house, the anger was justifiable.
Mirroring the U.S., where the Black imprisonment rate is more than five times than that of Whites, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up just 2% of the population but 29% of all prison inmates in Australia. “The Black Lives Matter movement very seriously resonated here because Australia has had such a denial of its history,” Burney, 63, said in an interview. “It clicked because of the extraordinary large numbers of Aboriginal people incarcerated and the hundreds of deaths in custody.”
Linda Burney during Morrison’s Closing the Gap ministerial statement at Parliament House in Canberra, on 14 February 2019. Photo: Tracey Nearmy. Image source: Bloomberg Equality.
NDIS independent assessments
The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) has released a joint paper with the Department of Social Services about independent assessments. The paper is the Government’s submission to the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) inquiry on independent assessments. The NDIA’s submission sets out a picture of the planned reforms and why they are necessary to deliver a simpler, faster, fairer and more flexible NDIS that will benefit all Australians. The paper released provides a summary of the background, the key reasons independent assessments are being introduced and clarifies the intent of independent assessments.
The concerns raised in the recent reforms consultation process indicate that there are misconceptions and misunderstandings about the details of independent assessments and how they will be implemented. The submission paper is the Government’s clear statement of independent assessments and is an opportunity for us to clarify details about the planned reforms.
The NDIA says it is committed to actively seeking feedback on independent assessments and other reform proposals through an ongoing and comprehensive consultation program and encourages you to read the joint submission paper here.
Image source: Disability Insider website.
Second lowest COVID-19 case rate in OECD
The Government will invest more than $1.1 billion to extend its national COVID-19 health response and suppression strategy until 31 December 2021. Australia is leading the world out of the global COVID-19 pandemic and recession. As COVID-19 vaccines roll out across the nation, protecting Australians from the ongoing threats of the pandemic remains a priority. This $1.1 billion is in addition to more than $22 billion spent in these areas to date, including more than $6 billion to support the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Australia’s suppression strategy has been extremely successful to date, particularly when compared with the devastation caused by the virus in many places overseas. Australia’s remarkable performance in saving lives is evident – we have the second lowest case rate and third lowest mortality rateamongst countries in the OECD.
Vaccine rollout to include more Aboriginal Australians
Just over a week out from the beginning of the COVID-19 vaccinations for the phase 1b priority group, the Australian government has quietly changed the parameters to include more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and remote residents. The ABC understands the decision has been made to assist the logistics of delivering the vaccines to remote communities.
It would mean vaccination teams who head to remote Aboriginal communities can immunise all adults over the age of 18 who want the vaccine, rather than just people over 55 or those who met the previous criteria for phase 1b. The changes would not be targeting, for instance, young Aboriginal people living in urban areas.
The federal Department of Health website has changed its phase 1b category to say, “beginning to vaccinate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”. A spokeswoman from the department confirmed the change would also include non-Indigenous remote residents. “All remote and very remote residents [inclusive of both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population and the non-Indigenous population] over the age of 18 will be considered a priority group, due to logistical requirements,” she said. “This will limit the need to transfer workforce and relevant materials and will assist with issues associated with distribution and access.”
Previously it was “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 55” or who met other phase 1b criteria, like having an underlying medical condition, being a healthcare worker, critical or high-risk worker. There was no change to this for people living in urban and regional locations.
The Australian Government is ramping up its campaign against misinformation on the COVID-19 vaccines, as the vaccination program ramps up moving into Phase 1B. Australians can get all their questions answered on the health website to find out what they want – and need – to know about the COVID-19 vaccines. The new material on the website, called Is it true? will help answer questions people may have about the vaccine, and respond to vaccine misinformation they may have heard. This new function will provide trusted, credible information on COVID-19 vaccinesfor everyone in Australia. It will sort the fact from the fiction. The information on the website will be clear, accurate and timely. This will help reassure Australians about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and answer commonly asked questions and misinformation relating to the COVID-19 Vaccination program.
The AMA has received advice from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander COVID-19 Advisory Group that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seeking vaccination in the 1b and 2a rollout, self-identification is sufficient proof of Indigenous status – no other documentation in required. The advisory group re-affirmed that no proof beyond self-identification is required and this is consistent with the RACGP standards. While there is the potential for non-indigenous people to take advantage of this system, it was thought the greater harm was in potential racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seeking vaccination and of having to prove one’s identity.
Are you interested in contributing to cancer in primary care research?
PC4, the Primary Care Collaborative Cancer Clinical Trials Group, is undertaking a prioritisation study that aims to explore the views of different stakeholders to identify their perspective on what the top research priorities should be in the field of cancer in primary care research. PC4 is funded by Cancer Australia to support the development of cancer in primary care trials.
The surveyshould take less than 10 minutes to complete and will give you an opportunity to advocate for the areas of cancer in primary care research you feel should be addressed most urgently.
You can access the link to survey for health care professionals, researchers etc. here and the link to the consumer surveyhere.
This survey is being distributed nationally and is set to close on Friday 16 April 2021.
National Bowel Cancer Screening Program promotion
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. If found early, up to 90% of cases can be treated successfully. Bowel cancer often has no obvious early warning signs. The good news is, a bowel screening test can detect changes in the bowel long before your patient notices any problems.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program provides free bowel screening kits for eligible people aged 50–74. So, have the bowel screening chat with your patients. An A4-sized poster (for display in staff only access areas) encouraging health professionals to talk to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about bowel screening as well as other resources can be accessed here.
JobSeeker cuts will widen health gaps
The Federal Government’s failure to provide a liveable income through JobSeeker payments will harm the health of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and contribute to widespread distress as people and families struggle to afford healthy food and housing. Health groups have also warned that the new base rate for JobSeeker will contribute to growing health inequalities and have consistently highlighted evidence of the link between poverty and sickness.
More than 500 submissions were made to the Senate inquiry into the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Income Support) Bill 2021, with many testimonials of hardship from families and individuals choosing between food and medications, and forced into homelessness. Economic modelling by The Grattan Institute predicts that 40,000 more jobs will be lost when the Government axes the Coronavirus Supplement (currently $75 a week) at the end of March and replaces it with a $25 a week increase to JobSeeker payments.
Demand soared for fresh fruit and vegetables when Aboriginal communities received the Coronavirus Supplement. Photo by k15 on Unsplash. Image source: Croakey.
Innovative post suicide support program
An innovative trial will give children and young people access to community-based, non-clinical support following an attempted suicide, thanks to a $3.8 million investment from the NSW Government. Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor said the service will be designed by young people with lived experience of suicide alongside families and carers, youth mental health and suicide prevention experts. “Growing evidence tells us that following up and increasing community support for people after a suicide attempt can reduce the likelihood of a further attempt,” Mrs Taylor said. “We know that young people are often reluctant to reach out for help and don’t always engage well with clinical services – what works well for adults often doesn’t work well for young people.
To view the NSW Government media release in full click here.
Image source: Amnesty International website.
Close The Gap Report Launch 2021
The Close the Gap Campaign aims to close the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation. The campaign is built on evidence that shows significant improvements in the health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can be achieved by 2030.
The Australian Institute is delighted to invite you to the launch of the 2021 Close the Gap Campaign report “Leadership & Legacy Through Crises: Keeping Our Mob Safe”, written by the Lowitja Institute.
The report will be launched via webinar, on National Close the Gap Dayfrom 12:00 PM (AEDT) Thursday 18 March 2021 – hosted by the Australia Institute in support of the Close the Gap Campaign.
The webinar is free, but registration is essential. To book click here.
You can also view an invite to the Close the Gap & Mental Health Awareness Eventhere.
The theme of International Women’s Day 2021 (Monday 8 March) ‘Choose to Challenge’, highlights the power of challenge in any environment, with an emphasis on calling out gender bias and equality. Celebrating all that is ‘girl power’, fierce females, and women who advocate for their people is what this day is all about. First Nations women are pioneers when it comes to advocating for equality — not just standing up against sexism and misogyny, but racism too.
To celebrate IWD 2021, journalist Jennetta Quinn-Bates made a list of First Nations women who are making waves in their chosen industries and professions, and definitely “Choose to Challenge” in their everyday lives and careers. Jennetta said they’re the ones we look to for inspiration to keep us going. The ones who’s pages we head to when there are important matters involving our communities, knowing they’ll be doing their best to use their voices. They’re the ones who aren’t afraid to speak up for the mob, to be proud, and to continue the journey our ancestors started.
NT Minister for Health, Natasha Fyles, says Manayingkarirra Primary Health Centre in Maningrida has been handed over to Aboriginal control, as part of the Territory Labor Government’s commitment to local decision making. Mala’la Health Service Aboriginal Corporation are now overseeing the delivery of health care services for the community, and surrounding homelands in Central Arnhem Land. Maningrida is one of the Territory’s busiest remote health centres. It carries out 4,000 consultations per month for more than 2,700 residents.
To view the NT Minister for Health’s media release in full click here.
Manayingkarirra Primary Health Care Centre, Maningrida. Image source: West Arnhem Regional Council website.
To view a statement from Charlie Gunabarra, Chairperson of Mala’la Health Service Aboriginal Corporation regarding the importance of this transition to the Maningrida community click here.
Charlie Gunabarra, Chairperson Mala’la Health Service Aboriginal Corporation. Image source: West Arnhem Regional Council website.
Vaccine rollout to support Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) have said that as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have an increased risk of acquiring and developing serious outcomes from communicable diseases due to multiple factors it is critical that the COVID-19 vaccine program is designed and delivered in a manner which is accessible, inclusive and culturally safe. This includes ensuring communications are developed and targeted for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and that information and services are delivered in appropriate languages and formats and within appropriate facilities and locations.
A comprehensive vaccine implementation plan (the Plan) has been developed in consultation with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19, and with state and territory governments. This Plan has been built on principles aligned with the Management Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Populations, including shared decision-making between Governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; community control and cultural safety across the whole-of-population system.
To view the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt’s media release click here.
Image source: UNSW Sydney Newsroom website.
Indigenous groups want bigger role in aged care
The final report from the Aged Care Royal Commission found one major area of concern is the plight of elderly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Indigenous-run service providers say they’re hopeful the government will act on a key recommendation from the report, to give them a more prominent role in running aged care for First Nations people.
You can listen to the segment on the ABC The World Today featuring Features Jody Currie from The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service Brisbane and Jayne Lawrence from Charles Sturt University here.
Image source: Industry Skills Advisory Council NT website.
Doctors combat vaccine hesitancy in Aboriginal communities
Indigenous Australians are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 and doctors fear vaccine hesitancy could increase the risks. There are more than 14,000 kms between Mparntwe (Alice Springs) and the Navajo Nation in the United States desert, but the regions have much more in common than red sand. Indigenous peoples in North America share many cultural and family values with the First Peoples of Australia and suffer similarly poor health outcomes from colonisation, a connection that has brought the two groups together for generations.
Now, one of the places in the US hit hardest by COVID-19 is playing an important role in helping combat vaccine hesitancy amongst First Nations folks in remote Australia. “The [Northern Territory has] had no direct experience of the devastation this virus causes. We’ve only had images from elsewhere,” said Dr John Boffa, chief medical officer at the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress. Indigenous Australians are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 due to the prevalence of underlying health issues such as diabetes, rheumatic heart disease and kidney disease ― a burden they’ve been forced to bear since colonisation. Crowded living conditions can also increase risks.
This time last year Indigenous people over 50 were advised to stay home “to the maximum extent practical” and rural communities were locked down completely. At the start of the pandemic, many Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) didn’t have enough PPE and there were fears a COVID-19 outbreak would rob Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people not only of their lives, but of their elders, language and cultural practices too. The biggest challenge ahead, according to Boffa, is convincing First Nations people it’s safe and still important to get inoculated. His team is planning a Zoom call with Navajo leaders so that local elders and community members can hear about the Americans’ experience with the jab.
The House of Representatives Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Preventionrecently launched an inquiry. The committee will examine the findings of the Productivity Commission Inquiry Report into Mental Health, the Report of the National Suicide Prevention Officer, the Victorian Royal Commission, the National Mental Health Workforce Strategy and other recent strategic reviews of the current mental health system, taking into account the 2019 bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic and the capacity of the mental health workforce to respond to such events. The Committee will also consider other matters not addressed by these recent reviews.
The Committee would welcome your organisation’s views and invites you to make a submission addressing any or all of the Terms of Reference.
Further information about the inquiry is available here. For detailed information on preparing a submission, including information about parliamentary privilege and requests for confidentiality, click here.
Submissions should be submitted to the Committee by 24 March.
Image source: UNSW Sydney Newsroom website.
NT Generational Change Impact Report released
Minister for Youth and Children, Lauren Moss, said the Generational Change Impact Report released today marks the halfway point of the NT Government’s multi-targeted reform program. Keeping Territory children and families safe, thriving and connected are the cornerstones of the Report, with data indicating that we are heading in the right direction. Highlights include decreases in the rate of children in care and child protection notifications, including: A 39% decrease in the rate of Aboriginal children substantiated for child abuse and neglect – going from 63.5 per 1,000 children substantiated in the NT in 2016–17 to 38.6 per 1,000 children in 2018–19. The proportion of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care in the NT continues to be well below the Australian rate. In 2018–19, 36.6 per 1,000 Aboriginal children in the NT were in out of home care compared to 54.2 per 1,000 Aboriginal children Australia wide.
To view the Minister Moss’ media release click here.
Image source: Katherine Times.
Health literacy and equity research findings
Croakey have published a special edition with the title ‘Equity and health literacy: Using emerging evidence to inform the development of the National Preventive Health Strategy’. The authors note that ‘health literacy’ has multiple definitions that encompass individual, population and environmental health literacy – with the underlying tenet being that it is critical for health and health equity, and is a social determinant of health.
The literature on equity and health literacy is relatively diffuse, often lost across multiple sectors and with limited systematic research that provides clear, actionable processes by which health literacy can drive health equity forward, they say. Hence, emerging evidence is often inaccessible to policymakers and poorly utilised by health practitioners in clinical settings. This special edition aims to address “the knowledge deficit around equity and health literacy”.
This special edition resulted from a partnership between the journal and the NT Primary Health Network, and five guest editors. It led to an “overwhelming” response and 21 papers accepted for publication. “To our knowledge, this special issue is the largest collection of articles dedicated to the topic of equity and health literacy, ever published in an Australasian peer‐reviewed academic journal,” the authors say. “We encourage Minister for Health, Expert Steering Committee, senior bureaucrats and policy staff to actively engage with the content of this special issue and purposively embed key findings into the National Preventive Health Strategy.”
Fear for pets – barrier to leaving family violence
A woman’s decision to leave a violent and abusive relationship is a complex process. She first needs to consider the risks to her and her children. Paradoxically, taking that step towards safety is also the time of greatest danger of homicide, sexual assault and increased violence. Pets and service animals are also a part of the lives of many families. This means they are an important part of the decision-making process when women consider leaving a violent situation.
The pets may be a critical source of therapeutic support, but they may also be at risk of harm and used to exert control over people (“you leave and you won’t see those animals again”). Animals’ central role in family life means many victim-survivors of family violence are reluctant to leave because they fear their pets will be harmed. To combat this, a family violence motion has been presented in the Victorian parliament that seeks to recognise animal abuse as a form of family violence. If all elements were adopted, it would increase the safety of women and children.
To view the full article in The Conversationclick here.
Image source: Warlukurlangu Artists of Yuendumu website.
International Women’s Day 2021
Yesterday (8 March 2021) was International Women’s Day 2021. June Oscar AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner released a statement saying “Today, my team and I, at the Australian Human Rights Commission, are celebrating the power and potential of all our deadly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls across Australia. This year’s International Women’s Day theme is, ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world’.”
“This theme makes me think about all our women and girls who carry the determination, knowledge and wisdom from an ancient lineage of matriarchs. Our ancestral mothers—who walked this land for millennia—have always shown remarkable leadership in nurturing and growing our societies into the oldest living civilizations on earth. Throughout this span of time our women and peoples have led through and beyond crisis. We know how to survive and thrive.”
“That legacy and all our women and girls’ diverse strengths, expertise and lived experiences are held within the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) Report and Community Guide, which can be accessed here. It is the first report to hear from our women and girls as a collective since 1986. Wiyi Yani U Thangani was brought into being because of your voices. It belongs to you, to all our First Nations women and girls.”
To view June Oscar’s statement in full click here.
In another article, University of Queensland academic, Associate Professor Chelsea Watego looked at the absence of Indigenous voices on International Woman’s Day 2021. She said the cancellation of a number of invitations for her sit on panels showed how Indigenous woman is only ever a subset of the category of woman when convenient. To read this article in full click here.
University of Queensland academic, Associate Professor Chelsea Watego. Image source: The Sydney Morning Herald.
AHW first in Kimberley to receive COVID-19 vaccine
An Indigenous health worker has become the first resident of northern WA to receive a COVID-19 vaccination as the rollout extends across the state. Nyikina Nyul Nyul woman Emily Hunter has been working on the frontline during the pandemic as a senior nurse at Broome Hospital. After receiving the Pfizer jab, she said she hoped to the be first of many residents in the region to be vaccinated. “I’m quite proud to be the first person in the Kimberley,” she said. “Twelve months ago everyone was terrified about what was going to happen and no one knew anything about COVID-19. I hope others follow suit as well.” To view the ABC News article in full click here.
Nyikina Nyul Nyul nurse Emily Hunter was the first Kimberley person to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. Photo: Erin Parke. Image source: ABC News website.
SA – Adelaide – CRANAplus – improving remote health
Registered Psychologist/Senior Psychologist x 1 PT or FT – Adelaide
CRANAplus is the peak professional body for health professionals working in remote and isolated areas across Australia. They exist to ensure the delivery of safe, high quality primary healthcare to remote and isolated areas of Australia. CRANplus is an affordable, grassroots, not-for profit, membership based organisation that has provided nearly 40 years of education, support and professional services for the multi-disciplinary remote health workforce. CRANAplus is a values-based organisation, that genuinely embraces diversity, flexibility, and innovation in everything they do.
CRANAplus has a vacancy for a Registered Psychologist/Senior Psychologist (Mental Health & Wellbeing Service) who will be responsible for the development and delivery of high-quality psychological and wellbeing support services to health professionals and their families, across rural and remote communities in Australia.
To view the position description and to apply click here.Applications close Sunday 28 March 2021.
National Day of Women Living with HIV
Today (Tuesday 9 March), the National Network of Women Living with HIV (Femfatales), celebrate the 6th National Day of Women Living with HIV. This year’s theme ‘Taking Control of Our Health’, reminds all women, regardless of our HIV status, to focus on our own health and wellbeing. The day is being hosted by the National Association for People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA), Australia’s peak non-government organisation representing community-based groups of people living with HIV across Australia. To view the NAPWHA Femfatales media release click here.
During the recent and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have neglected or postponed our sexual and reproductive health checks. Now is the time to resume our crucially important health tests, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, cervical screening tests, breast checks and sexual health screens including a HIV test, said Ms Katherine Leane, Chair of Femfatales. Information about some of the key issues for women living with HIV can be accessed on the National Association for People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) website here.
You can view a special HIV is: Just a Part of Me video release featuring Jane Costello (CEO of Positive Life NSW), Natasha Io (Board Member of Positive Life NSW), and Michelle Tobin (Aboriginal woman of the Yorta Yorta Nation who is also a descendant of the Stolen Generation) here.
Michelle Tobin, Aboriginal woman of the Yorta Yorta Nation and descendant of the Stolen Generation.
Kidney Health Week – 15–21 March
With 1 in 3 Australians adults at risk of kidney disease, this Kidney Health Week, Kidney Health Australia is calling out to all Australians, particularly those living with diabetes and/or hypertension, to get a Kidney Health Check. Last September Kidney Health Australia launched its early detection campaign, #nofilter, featuring Shane and his family. Shane was diagnosed with kidney disease following detection of high blood pressure. The campaign showed the impact dialysis had on his and his family’s life. Tragically, Shane passed away from a heart attack in December 2020, at just 48 years old.
As a tribute to him, his wife Jodie and five daughters will be featuring in the campaign during Kidney Health Week to carry on the fight in Shane’s name and get the message out about early detection. While the campaign does carry a heartbreaking message about Shane’s battle with kidney disease, it also carries a message of hope – that if caught early enough, Progression of kidney disease can be slowed down or even stopped.
For more information about Kidney Health Week 2021, Monday 15 March to Sunday 21 March click here.
Pilbara Aboriginal Health Alliance launch
The Pilbara Aboriginal Health Alliance (PAHA) is a partnership between the three Aboriginal Community Health Organisations (ACCHOs) based in the Pilbara region of WA, namely, Mawarnkarra Health Service; Wirraka Maya Health Service; and Puntukurnu Aboriginal Medical Service (Member ACCHOs). The priority for PAHA and its Member ACCHOs is to improve the health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, families and communities, in the Pilbara region.
The Member ACCHOs met in June 2019 to discuss the re-establishment of a Pilbara Aboriginal Health representative body. It was agreed that PAHA would be established to advocate for and represent the Members ACCHOs. An interim Coordinator was appointed in February 2020 to undertake the actions required to set up PAHA; coordinate PAHA meetings; and carry out the directions of the PAHA Directors. The greatest concerns to PAHA are the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in the Pilbara; the chronic diseases impacting families; providing access to holistic health services; the impact of grief and loss on families; and increasing the level of health services and programs available to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. The launch of PAHA will take place on Friday 19 March.
” Getting enough healthy food at all times is not something many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities can take for granted.
COVID-19 has exposed a decades-old issue that contributes significantly to the health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians.
Now is the time to support communities during this pandemic and to increase future resilience.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has a silver lining it is how this experience makes us think twice about what we want ‘normal’ times to look like. “
Dr Megan Ferguson is a Senior Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition at The University of Queensland. She manages a research program in partnership with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations that seeks to improve food security. See full story Part 1 below
” Charging high prices because people aren’t in a position to challenge it (or shop elsewhere) is another key reason why prices are high. Its called price gouging, and remains a very real problem in the NT.
There are ethical ramifications on food security for charging high prices. Like everyone the world over, shopping patterns are influenced by cost. If healthy products are expensive to buy, shoppers will choose the cheaper, less healthy product. A pie instead of a meat and vegetables for example or takeaway fried chicken instead of cooking at home with fresh produce.
The incidence of chronic disease in Indigenous populations is in large part due to the food availability and the prices in community.
Therefore the impact the store pricing has on community health is significant. Read more ”
” Indigenous Australians suffer a disproportionate burden of preventable chronic disease compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts – much of it diet-related.
Increasing fruit and vegetable intakes and reducing sugar-sweetened soft-drink consumption can reduce the risk of preventable chronic disease.
There is evidence from some general population studies that subsidising healthier foods can modify dietary behaviour. There is little such evidence relating specifically to socio-economically disadvantaged populations, even though dietary behaviour in such populations is arguably more likely to be susceptible to such interventions.
This study aims to assess the impact and cost-effectiveness of a price discount intervention with or without an in-store nutrition education intervention on purchases of fruit, vegetables, water and diet soft-drinks among remote Indigenous communities. ”
Healthinfonet have just released the Summary of #nutrition among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This publication provides key information on food, diet and #nutritionalhealth among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.
The true prevalence could be twice as high. Food insecurity is caused by a lack of food availability due at times to precarious supply, and a lack of food affordability, resulting from those with the lowest incomes paying the highest food prices in our nation.
Limited access to manufacturer deals and buying power, freight costs, challenging logistics, high operational and maintenance costs and supply to a small population are amongst the factors impacting on the cost of food. That was in ‘normal’ times – the times that led to this disproportionate level of co-morbidity.
The COVID-19 response travel restrictions and increased government allowances have increased demand on community stores, already feeling the squeeze on supply, due to the flow-on effects of major supermarket purchasing elsewhere.
Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt recently created the Food Security Working Group to closely monitor issues specific to remote and regional Australia. Emergency food relief has been provided to communities, a necessity when there are abnormal pressures on the system.
This will not solve the problem though, that requires a systematic approach from government. We anticipate the Food Security Working Group will succeed in quarantining, what in the scheme of things is such a small volume of the nation’s food supply, to ensure sustainable food availability in remote stores.
But there has been no relief on the food affordability front. Remote community residents receiving government allowances have shared the benefits of the national economic package.
However, they continue to face disproportionately high food prices compared to those living in regional centres – on average 60% for healthy food in the Northern Territory and other remote jurisdictions. This comes at the same time as access to town supermarkets with their lower food prices, has been restricted.
Being able to purchase healthy food at regional centre prices will go a long way to supporting people in remote communities now. We need to address ongoing food price inequity to improve food security and diet quality, and ultimately reduce disease burden to ensure remote communities recover and build resilience.
It is time for real action on food price equity and food affordability. This pandemic is making us think deeply about what sort of society we want beyond this current crisis. Here is our opportunity to shape it. Healthy food price equity is a new normal we would like to see.
Dr Megan Ferguson is a Senior Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition at The University of Queensland. She manages a research program in partnership with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations that seeks to improve food security.
More importantly though, how is it possible that one store can charge almost $25 more for the same basket of products? Obviously, it’s because the prices are higher. The trickier and more important question to answer is why?
Lets just break it down a little, and look at chicken prices as an example of how prices influence food security.
Barunga store charges $9.40 for 2kg of Hazledene chicken cuts and Beswick store (which is run by the Commonwealth entity Outback Stores) charges $16.80. Its only 25km down the road! Another community store charges $24.60 for the same product.
Why the price difference?
There are three reasons why the prices are different between stores: rebates, ethics and freight.
A rebate is money paid by the supplier to store management stock their products. Our research shows rebates can range between 1.5 and 25%. Rebates are calculated on each product and the higher the rebate, the more expensive the product becomes. Coke and tobacco reap the highest rebates in community stores. Rebates are given to the store management groups, and not the stores themselves.
AIG does not accept rebates because we believe it is unethical and drives up prices in the store which further disadvantages the vulnerable and threatens food security.
Usually listed as the primary reason for high prices in community stores, but in reality, has a far lesser impact on the actual prices of products in the store.
Freight is the cost of getting the products from the supplier to the store. If a store is very remote, then the freight is obviously going to be more expensive. Freight should be cheaper for the larger management groups because they order in bulk which reduces the actual freight costs further.
AIG is a small store management group and if we can have low prices while paying freight, it is proof that freight is not as expensive as people are led to believe.
Keep comparing food prices
We want to disrupt how community stores are managed in the NT through creating transparency about prices in stores. Its hard for people in remote communities to understand the situation they are in if they can’t compare prices in their stores to other communities.
AIG has created online shopping for the Barunga and Timber Creek communities which is a great service, but equally important is being able to provide transparency the prices we charge so others can compare to the prices in their stores. We don’t accept rebates from suppliers, and we don’t make a profit on fruit and vegetables. This is how our prices are low. If we can do it, other stores can do the same.
“ We urge the national cabinet to take action, before it is too late, because time is all remote Aboriginal communities have on their side in their fight against the virus. We are all affected by this crisis, some more than others when it comes to accessing affordable food.
We want preventative action. This is all about making sure remote Aboriginal people can depend 100% on their one community store as they are not in a position to shop around. We have no more time to waste.”
Central Australian Aboriginal Congress CEO Donna Ah Chee
Photo above Outback Stores
A coalition of 13 Aboriginal organisations of the Northern Territory* want the national cabinet to immediately guarantee the supply of affordable food and other basics in locked-down remote communities.
Two weeks ago, the commonwealth and NT governments met with major supermarkets, suppliers and three major remote retailers, yet remote community owned stores are still waiting to hear about any government interventions that might flow from that meeting that will take the pressure off.
“We are getting daily reports of remote stores struggling to supply basic goods,” said John Paterson, the CEO of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT.
“Some stores are running out of fresh food three days after their weekly delivery. Under COVID-19 travel restrictions small, community owned stores must suddenly meet 100% of people’s needs across a much greater range of products. Some stores have had to triple their usual orders.
“In recent weeks, the big supermarkets have responded to panic buying down south by sweeping up the bulk of goods from manufacturers and producers. Independent suppliers are struggling to get what they need for remote stores,” said John Paterson.
“We want an agreed proportion of these essential goods set aside for the independent suppliers. This can’t be solved through donated goods. It needs a systemic response from government. “
“Prices in remote community owned stores are also a big issue. This is borne out in every market basket survey. High freight costs and limited purchasing power mean prices can average 60% higher than at major supermarkets.
The coalition of health services, land councils and other Aboriginal organisations is calling for a 20 per cent point-of-sale subsidy of essential food, cleaning and hygiene products, as well as winter bedding and clothing in remote community stores.
“A direct consumer subsidy of selected items is the best way to guarantee that residents who are no longer able to shop around can afford the basics,” said Mr Paterson.
Community stores say invoicing the federal government for 20 per cent of their sales once a fortnight would place the least administrative burden on them.
“Already, remote community residents are taking backroads into regional centres to access essential and affordable supplies they can’t get at home. Towns are where they are most likely to contract coronavirus.”
“We understand fresh fruit, vegetables and meat are not in short supply in the southern states and distributers are actively planning to address current shortages in remote stores in central Australia. It is critically important that we understand how this will work, the CEO of the Central Land Council, Joe Martin-Jard, said.
“However, we believe subsidies on essential goods at point of sale coupled with a supply guarantee will make a huge difference.”
*The coalition includes the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT, Central Land Council, Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, NPY Women’s Council, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Programmes, Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation, Waltja Aboriginal Corporation, Yeperenye Pty Ltd, Gap Youth Centre, Yipirinya School Council, Central Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Unit and Tangentyere Council.
” A study of intake of six remote Aboriginal communities, based on store turnover, found that intake of energy, fat and sugar was excessive, with fatty meats making the largest contribution to fat intake.
Compared with national data, intake of sweet and carbonated beverages and sugar was much higher in these communities, with the proportion of energy derived from refined sugars approximately four times the recommended intake.
Recent evidence from Mexico indicates that implementing health-related taxes on sugary drinks and on ‘junk’ food can decrease purchase of these foods and drinks.
A recent Australian study predicted that increasing the price of sugary drinks by 20% could reduce consumption by 12.6%.
Revenue raised by such a measure could be directed to an evaluation of effectiveness and in the longer term be used to subsidise and market healthy food choices as well as promotion of physical activity.
It is imperative that all of these interventions to promote healthy eating should have community-ownership and not undermine the cultural importance of family social events, the role of Elders, or traditional preferences for some food.
Food supply in Indigenous communities needs to ensure healthy, good quality foods are available at affordable prices.”
Extract from NACCHO Network Submission to theSelect Committee’s Obesity Epidemic in Australia Inquiry.
Several governments around the world have adopted taxes on sugary drinks in recent years. The evidence is clear: they work.
Last year, a summary of 17 studies found health taxes on sugary drinks implemented in Berkeley and other places in the United States, Mexico, Chile, France and Spain reduced both purchases and consumption of sugary drinks.
Reliable evidence from around the world tells us a 10% tax reduces sugary drink intakes by around 10%.
The United Kingdom soft drink tax has also been making headlines recently. Since its introduction, the amount of sugar in drinks has decreased by almost 30%, and six out of ten leading drink companies have dropped the sugar content of more than 50% of their drinks.
In Australia, modelling studies have shown a 20% health tax on sugary drinks is likely to save almost A$2 billion in healthcare costs over the lifetime of the population by preventing diet-related diseases like diabetes, heart disease and several cancers.
This is over and above the cost benefits of preventing dental health issues linked to consumption of sugary drinks.
Most of the health benefits (nearly 50%) would occur among those living in the lowest socioeconomic circumstances.
Myth 1: Sugary drink taxes unfairly disadvantage the poor
It’s true people on lower incomes would feel the pinch from higher prices on sugary drinks. A 20% tax on sugary drinks in Australia would cost people from low socioeconomic households about A$35 extra per year. But this is just A$4 higher than the cost to the wealthiest households.
Importantly, poorer households are likely to get the biggest health benefits and long-term health care savings.
What’s more, the money raised from the tax could be targeted towards reducing health inequalities.
In Australia, job losses from such a tax are likely to be minimal. The total demand for drinks by Australian manufacturers is unlikely to change substantially because consumers would likely switch from sugary drinks to other product lines, such as bottled water and artificially sweetened drinks.
Despite industry protestations, an Australian tax would have minimal impact on sugar farmers. This is because 80% of our locally grown sugar is exported. Only a small amount of Australian sugar goes to sugary drinks, and the expected 1% drop in demand would be traded elsewhere.
Myth 3: People don’t support health taxes on sugary drinks
There is widespread support for a tax on sugary drinks from major health and consumer groups in Australia.
In addition, a national survey conducted in 2017 showed 77% of Australians supported a tax on sugary drinks, if the proceeds were used to fund obesity prevention.
Myth 4: People will just swap to other unhealthy products, so a tax is useless
Taxes, or levies, can be designed to avoid substitution to unhealthy products by covering a broad range of sugary drink options, including soft drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks.
There is also evidence that shows people switch to water in response to sugary drinks taxes.
Myth 5: There’s no evidence sugary drink taxes reduce obesity or diabetes
Because of the multiple drivers of obesity, it’s difficult to isolate the impact of a single measure. Indeed, we need a comprehensive policy approach to address the problem. That’s why Dr Muecke is calling for a tax on sugary drinks alongside improved food labelling and marketing regulations.
Towards better food policies
The Morrison government has previously and repeatedly rejected pushes for a tax on sugary drinks.
But Australian governments are currently developing a National Obesity Strategy, making it the ideal time to revisit this issue.
We need to stop letting myths get in the way of evidence-backed health policies.
Let’s listen to Dr Muecke – he who knows all too well the devastating effects of products packed full of sugar.