We are three members of the Cairns Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community concerned about a number of issues in relation to the response for Covid 19 and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities particularly in our urban setting in Cairns and in smaller rural towns across the Far North Queensland Region. We are calling for action to urgently address these concerns.
We have come together as a group to ensure there is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island community voices at the heart of a co-ordinated response across sectors responsible for the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples as per the National Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (Covid19); Management Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Populations and Operational Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Populations.
The plan clearly outlines that the Management Plan will specifically assist to:
Inform, engage and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in COVID-19 responses; specifically Preparedness, Targeted action and Stand down phases;
- Guide the development, implementation and evaluation of local Action Plans in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities;
- Identify and characterise the nature of the virus and the disease in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context;
- Minimise transmissibility, morbidity and mortality in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
- populations; and
- Minimise the burden on and support health systems, especially Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS).
The 3 Principles of the emergency response plan are specific about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community involvement and in particular the first principle (Shared decision-making between Government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) states that:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be involved in assessing COVID-19 risk and responses in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Responses must be centred on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s perspectives, ways of living and culture developed and implemented with culture as a core underlying positive determinant.
- Clinical and public health responses to COVID-19 outbreaks in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities should be collaborative, but responses must ensure local community leaders and communities are central to the response.
- These responses should be co-developed, and co-designed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, enabling them to contribute and fully participate in shared decision-making.
- Further Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural governance groups, initiated and led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can bring advice and guidance on culturally-specific responses including communication strategies.
While we applaud the work that is being done, it appears that it is focussed on a clinical response, with not enough effort going into prevention and early intervention so we don’t end up with a catastrophe on our hands.
It appears that to date the response to Covid 19 has left out the key ingredient which is our communities’ involvement in shared decision making. It is we who know what the complexities of our realities are and how we should address this virus.
The 4 key issues we have raised in our press release last week were;
- Outreach – A concerted effort has to be made to get out to do an education and awareness campaign as many of our more vulnerable community members have no access to social or traditional media. The only way to get the message through to them is to do safe face to face engagement.
- Accommodation – the level of overcrowding in urban centres is high and at present there are no isolation options for people to be able to go to. There must be a plan around accommodation options for those who need it to access and at present one option could be the many empty hotel rooms which could be repurposed.
- Public Information – It needs to be recognised that the lifestyles of many of our communities fundamentally differ from mainstream and the public information created to change behaviour must reflect this.
- Co-ordination of response – the response to this virus must be better co-ordinated and has to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island community voices.. This governing body should be made up of a cross section of our community. Cairns Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders, health, political, bureaucratic, police and others responsible for the response to Covid 19 must urgently work with our community to ensure the formation of such a group.
This is an urgent call to action to come around the table before the week ends and work with the community on a response across sectors to Covid 19 and to address the issues that really impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities in Cairns and surrounding areas.
It’s an opportunity for Community Controlled Health Services, representative bodies, government and other community services to work together to give First Nations people the best chance for survival.
We can be contacted on the email addresses below.
Yours in Unity
Nerelle Nichol firstname.lastname@example.org
La-Donna Ballangarry-Kearins email@example.com
Leigh Harris firstname.lastname@example.org