The success of the actions has shown the huge potential of this Aboriginal community-controlled health sector. To maintain this effective and efficient response, it is critical that the Government support capacity-building of the ACCHS, with a focus on preventing burnout and empowering local people and organisations.
What is the historic context of disease and infection passed to Indigenous communities? How does this context shape current needs and priorities?
Since colonisation, disease and infection have decimated Indigenous populations in Australia and worldwide. This has been well documented, most recently by the devastating effects of the H1N1 influenza.
The social determinants of health mean that the most vulnerable in society are likely to be hit hardest by the pandemic, and we have seen this in the black and Indigenous American communities. Marginalised peoples who were already suffering from chronic illness, mental ill-health, and poverty prior to the COVID-19 crisis are likely to be further devastated by the economic and mental health crisis that will inevitably characterise the COVID-19 recovery.
The effect of cumulative risk factors needs to be addressed.
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultural determinants of health provide resilience and strength for peoples and communities. The Social and Emotional Wellbeing (SEWB) Framework [PDF, 3.56MB]describes the importance of having a healthy mind and body, and the importance of enhancing wellbeing through connections to family, community, culture, land, and spirituality.
The disruptions to these connections by government policies to contain the virus need to be addressed, and re-establishing and revitalising these connections needs to be a core characteristic of the pandemic health and mental health response to communities. It is critical that both mainstream and community-led services acknowledge the SEWB framework and the significant impacts of historical, social, and cultural determinants of health.
What are some of the lessons learned (or that might be learned) from this crisis in terms of Australia’s relationship with Indigenous people?
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and simultaneously reinforced the gaps in Australia’s social safety net, including racial inequity, social determinants of health, and the longstanding shortfalls in health policy. All these factors that influence the health and mental health outcomes of COVID-19 also affect an individual’s ability to achieve health and wellness.
The need for Australia to recognise Indigenous peoples, to enhance relationships of reconciliation and healing the relationship is essential now. However, we remain the only colonised country without a treaty.
The need to address key human rights issues, including self-determination, tackle social determinants such as housing and ensure that equitable health care is provided are the important lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.
Professor Jill Milroy is a Palyku woman from the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Jill is Pro Vice Chancellor Indigenous Education at The University of Western Australia and is the Director of UWA’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health. She has more than 30 years experience in Indigenous higher education developing programs and support services for Indigenous students as well as a range of Indigenous curriculum and research initiatives. Jill has served on a number of national policy advisory bodies and has been a strong advocate within the national higher education arena for the formal recognition and resourcing of Indigenous knowledge systems. In 2011 she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in recognition of her services to Indigenous education.
Kate Derry is a research assistant at the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at the School of Indigenous Studies in The University of Western Australia. Her research areas include child development, self-psychology, and suicide prevention.
Professor Pat Dudgeon is from the Bardi people of the Kimberly area of Western Australia. She is a psychologist, professor, and Research Fellow at the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at the School of Indigenous Studies in The University of Western Australia. She is also Director of the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention and the National Empowerment Project. Her research areas include social and emotional wellbeing and suicide prevention and she is actively involved with the Aboriginal community and committed to social justice.