- World AIDS Day 2023: Inclusion. Respect. Equity.
- Family Matters 2023 Report launched
- National crackdown on vaping
- Calls for national agreement to raise the age
- RACGP criticises oversight of PHNs
- Sector Jobs
- Key Date – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV Awareness Week – 1–8 December 2023
The image in the feature tile is from National Today, a blog that gathers information on special holidays and moments from around the world.
The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is a platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.
We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.
World AIDS Day 2023: Inclusion. Respect. Equity
Australia has committed to the virtual elimination and transmission of HIV by 2030, with the declaration of ‘leaving no one behind’. Whilst there is a disproportionate burden of other blood borne viruses (BBVs) and sexually transmissible infections (STIs) in our communities, rates of HIV are comparable to that of non-Indigenous Australians.
There were 580 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with HIV, and only 17 new notifications reported in 2021. New diagnoses have declined over the past 10 years, however HIV testing also declined throughout and post the COVID-19 pandemic. This may impact the overall figures.
The Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector has been relentless in their efforts to test, treat and educate their community about HIV and other BBVs and STIs. Their hard work helps ensure all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with HIV have access to treatment to enable viral suppression, which means they have no risk of transmitting the infection to a sexual partner.
Australia is a world leader in the elimination of HIV, in part due to our successful approach to community partnerships and collaboration, which aligns well with the World AIDS Day 2023 theme, ‘Inclusion. Respect. Equity’.
Dr Jason Agostino, NACCHO’s senior medical advisor and member of the HIV Taskforce states “It has been great to see the recent declines in new HIV cases among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Virtual elimination of HIV is in reach for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. The HIV Taskforce Report outlines the key actions to get there along with continued shared decision making and investment in the Aboriginal Community Controlled Sector.”
Complex social factors including, intergenerational trauma, poverty, lack of access to health services, low health literacy, high incarceration rates, and ongoing stigma around HIV continue to affect the elimination of BBVs and STIs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities.
Donnella Mills, NACCHO Chair, says, ‘to achieve the goal of eliminating HIV transmission in Australia for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, this year’s World Aids Day theme Inclusion. Respect. Equity. couldn’t be more critical. Stigma around people with HIV and HIV itself is really concerning. Ultimately, the impact of stigma increases rates of infection because people are too afraid to talk about HIV and afraid of getting tested.’
‘To truly make a difference, we’ve got to put an end to HIV stigma, increase our prevention programs and up our game in the HIV care processes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This means not only ensuring access to treatment but providing the support necessary for individuals to achieve viral suppression. It’s time for all levels of government to step up and work in a coordinated way with stakeholders across the sector.’
NACCHO works with partners to continue advocating for the elimination of HIV and the disproportionate rates of sexually transmitted diseases and blood-borne viruses among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
To build awareness and engage our communities in conversations around HIV, NACCHO hosts the popular HIV Awareness Week Virtual Trivia. This year, it will be held on Thursday 7 December 2023. The event brings people working in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community together, to reduce stigma and mobilise grassroots action.
You can register here for the HIV Awareness Week virtual trivia, which will be held on Thursday 7 December and is open to all ACCHO staff and organisations supporting ACCHOs.
World AIDS Day marks the beginning of HIV Awareness Week, which builds on the original Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV Awareness Week, that launched in 2014 by Prof. James Ward (University of Queensland’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health) and SAHMRI.
You can view the NACCHO media release World AIDS Day 2023: Inclusion. Respect. Equity on the NACCHO website here.
Family Matters 2023 Report launched
A new national report has found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 10.5 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children, with its authors warning more must be done to turn the tide on current trends. The Family Matters Report 2023 released earlier this week (Wednesday 29 November 2023) by the national peak body for First Nations children and families, SNAICC, highlighted the state of child protection across Australia and outlined a range of recommendations to improve the lives of Indigenous children.
According to the report, as of June 2022 there were 22,328 Indigenous children in out-of-home care – the highest number on record and an increase of 85 children from the previous year. SNAICC chairperson Muriel Bamblett said it was concerning to see little traction in improving outcomes across all states and territories. “To have so many children over-represented in the system, so many children are going to grow up away from their family, away from their community,” she said. “They will often not be with their siblings, not know their own country – these are things that are important to Aboriginal [people].”
Ms Bamblett, a Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung woman, said state and federal governments were not acting fast enough to shift control to Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations (ACCOs). “It’s a very, very slow transfer of resources, transfer of power and authority, [yet] where we see resources and power back, we see better results,” she said. “Many governments are actually running child protection … out of their government departments, and [there is] very little investment in Aboriginal community control. That speaks against self-determination — Aboriginal people need to be making decisions about their children on their land, on their country, and in their best interests.”
You can access the SNAICC Family Matters Report 2023 here. You can read the ABC News article Report finds Indigenous children 10.5 times more likely be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children in full here.
National crackdown on vaping
Health and medical groups have welcomed national vaping reforms due to roll out from 1 January next year, from when the importation of disposable single use vapes will be banned. In parallel with the ban – which is subject to approval of legislative and administrative arrangements – all medical practitioners and nurse practitioners will be able to prescribe the use of vapes, where clinically appropriate, from 1 January under a new Special Access Scheme pathway.
In a statement on Tuesday this week (28 November 2023) Minister Butler said from 1 March 2024, further changes are expected to include:
- cessation of the personal importation of vapes
- ban on the importation of non-therapeutic vapes
- requirement for therapeutic vape importers and manufacturers to notify the Therapeutic Goods Administration of their product’s compliance with the relevant product standards
- requirement for importers to obtain a licence and permit from the Australian Government’s Office of Drug Control before the products are imported.
During 2024, product standards for therapeutic vapes will also be strengthened, including to limit flavours, reduce permissible nicotine concentrations and require pharmaceutical packaging. A transition period will be allowed for businesses to comply with the new requirements. The Government will introduce legislation in 2024 to prevent domestic manufacture, advertisement, supply and commercial possession of non-therapeutic and disposable single use vapes to ensure comprehensive controls on vapes across all levels of the supply chain.
Minister Butler said he expects these reforms will tackle the rising use of vapes by young Australians. The latest data, from the first quarter of 2023, shows that about one in seven 14- to 17-year-olds and one in five 18- to 24-year-olds are current vapers. There is strong and consistent evidence that young Australians who vape are around three times more likely to take up tobacco smoking compared to young Australians who have never vaped, Butler said.
To read the Croakey Health Media article Reforms to reduce easy access to vapes. Photo by Liv Dumville. Amid a national crackdown on vaping, what can be learnt from young people’s experiences? in full click here.
Calls for national agreement to raise age
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACGP) is calling on first law officers from all Australian governments to agree on raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years of age at the Standing Council of Attorneys-General meeting today (1 December 2023). The Commonwealth, State, and Territory Attorneys-General previously agreed to provide the Standing Council with a position or update on the minimum age of criminal responsibility in their jurisdiction, offering an important opportunity to modernise Australia’s criminal justice system and improve health outcomes of Australian children and young people.
Dr Jacqueline Small, Paediatrician and president of the RACP, says “we urge all Attorneys-General to agree to raise the criminal age of responsibility to at least 14 years of age, without exception. “Agreement this Friday is the best hope for nationally consistent reform to keep very young children out of the criminal justice system. All governments need to listen to health experts who have been sounding the alarm: 10 to 12 years as the threshold for criminal responsibility is too low.”
“Some jurisdictions have made a step in the right direction. We praise the NT and the ACT especially, noting they have more to do, and the leadership from the Commonwealth. Friday’s meeting is an historic opportunity for all states and territories to commit to reforming our criminal justice system and protecting children from harm. Paediatricians and physicians support at least 14 as the uniform, nationally consistent, minimum age of criminal responsibility,” Dr Small said.
To read the RACGP media release Governments must listen to child health experts – Physicians call for national agreement to raise the age of criminal responsibility in full click here.
RACGP criticises oversight of PHNs
Insufficient oversight. Potentially inefficient spending of taxpayer funds. Systemic governance issues and poorly managed conflicts of interest. These are the among the highly critical observations included in a recent RACGP submission, available here, to the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) about the oversight of the country’s 31 Primary Health Networks (PHNs), the organisations tasked with improving primary care.
The ANAO auditors are inviting contributions on whether the Department of Health and Aged Care (DoH) manages the performance of PHNs in a way that is fit for purpose; whether compliance has been well monitored; and if the PHN program meets its objectives. In the 12-page document, the RACGP outlines significant member concerns on all three fronts, and queries how taxpayer funds are being spent.
“Such inefficiency is unacceptable when general practice is experiencing some of the most significant challenges in its history and struggling to remain financially sustainable,” the submission states. The college suggests that assessing PHN performance should shift towards being judged on the delivery of outcomes rather than the provision of services. “The community and primary care stakeholders of PHNs need to be involved in determining these indicators to ensure outcomes are meaningful,” the RACGP states.
The submission puts forward potential improvements to the way PHNs work with ACCHOs. “PNHs have been found by ACCHOs to insufficiently consult and collaborate with them and have failed to provide them with adequate resourcing to serve their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations,” the college states. “The Government must move beyond optional guidelines on how PHNs and ACCHOs work together and create mandatory standards for Aboriginal consultation and equitable involvement in commissioning.”
To view the RACGP newsGP article ‘The bar has been set too low’: RACGP criticises oversight of PHNs in full click here.
Sector Jobs – you can see sector job listings on the NACCHO website here.
Advertising Jobs – to advertise a job vacancy click here to go to the NACCHO website current job listings webpage. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find a Post A Job form. You can complete this form with your job vacancy details – it will then be approved for posting and go live on the NACCHO website.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV Awareness Week
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV Awareness Week (ATSIHAW) is held each year in the first week of December. Now in its 11th year, ATSIHAW has been making sure that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people know about the risks of HIV. They also share some great information about how to get tested and what treatment involves.
Anyone can get HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). When someone has HIV, their body’s immune system is attacked, so they’re more likely to catch, or get sick from other sicknesses. The virus is carried in their blood, so it’s important to keep safe!
People most at risk of catching HIV are those who:
- have unprotected sex with someone who has HIV
- share a syringe or needle with someone with HIV
- get blood from an infected person in an open cut or wound
- get the virus from their mum when they are a baby if she has HIV.
It’s important to be aware of the risks and get tested for HIV if needed. If HIV isn’t treated it can become a very serious disease that could lead to ending up in hospital, or even dying.
Getting tested for HIV is about looking after your health, and the health of your community. To find out more about HIV, visit the ATSIHIV website here.
To get tested for HIV, have a confidential yarn with your healthcare worker.