Delivering COVID-19 support to First Nations communities is a matter of trust

30 AUGUST 2021

Delivering COVID-19 support to First Nations communities is a matter of trust

Charles Sturt's Professor Stan Grant Jr and Professor Juanita Sherwood host forum that highlights cracks in a system that is leaving First Nations people more vulnerable to COVID-19.

  • Charles Sturt-hosted forum that exposed health and political challenges for First Nations people during pandemic
  • Forum revealed cultural, financial, logistical and socio-economic barriers facing First Nations people receiving COVID-19 treatment and vaccine
  • Industry leaders praise the resilience and sense of community among First Nations people

A forum hosted by Charles Sturt University on the devastating impact of COVID-19 on First Nations people has revealed cracks that are leaving vulnerable communities at risk.

The COVID: Our Lives Matter forum on Thursday 26 August was hosted by Charles Sturt University’s Vice-Chancellor’s Chair of Australian-Indigenous Belonging Professor Stan Grant Jr. The forum also featured Charles Sturt’s Pro Vice-Chancellor of First Nations Engagement Professor Juanita Sherwood on the discussion panel.

Passionate First Nations community leaders on the frontline of the health crisis spent an hour discussing the biggest problems experienced in getting vaccines and health care to remote First Nations communities.

Financial, cultural, logistical and socio-economic barriers faced by First Nations people, especially those in remote communities such as Wilcannia and Walgett, were identified, including lack of suitable technology, limited knowledge or fear of the vaccine, and no transport to get to vaccine hubs.

Professor Grant said despite the rising case numbers in Western NSW, the response of health workers, on-the-ground coordination among organisations and generosity of spirit were evident through the questions received during the forum.

“What we are seeing is a First Nations response to a health crisis not of our making,” Professor Grant said.

“I think something that needs to be stressed and that emerged out of this session was our resilience and our sense of community.”

Professor Grant said rapidly delivering the vaccine in a culturally respectful way that prioritised First Nations communities and their health teams would be crucial in coming days and weeks.

He also said trust was central to getting a good outcome and Professor Sherwood said the health department and government needs to ‘start listening’ to the concerns and questions of First Nations people to devise solutions.

“We create the trust … we just need to be heard and responded to respectively,” Professor Sherwood said.

The role that government and health bodies play in protecting First Nations people was discussed, with Chief Executive Officer of Orange Aboriginal Medical Service Mr Jamie Newman saying constant contact and access to follow-up doses of the vaccine was crucial in ensuring the communities do not disconnect from service providers.

Professor Sherwood said First Nations people experience more funerals than any other Australians and this, coupled with lack of adequate access to vaccinations and health staff, create fear about the impact of COVID-19.

The high morbidity rate of First Nations people from renal disease, cardiovascular disease and respiratory diseases meant these communities were already at high risk and in dire need of support.

Professor Sherwood said isolation worked at the start of the pandemic to ensure the virus did not impact communities but that is no longer the case.

“We were viewed as (Captain) Cook’s own men said as the healthiest specimens of people they had ever seen,” she said.

“In only 200 years we now have the worst health status in Australia.”

Professor Grant expressed interest in a second forum in a month, this time focusing on mental health.

Feedback to the University on the forum from health, government and community stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive, because the conversation revealed the real issues affecting indigenous communities.

You can watch the Thursday 26 August forum online.

Media Note:

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Nicole Barlow at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0429 217 026 or news@csu.edu.au

Photo caption: COVID-19 cases are rising in Wilcannia (pictured), with a lot of First Nations people with the virus or at risk of catching it. Professor Grant Jr and Professor Sherwood said towns such as Wilcannia and Walgett are in dire needs of assistance, including more vaccines.

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