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An Aboriginal-led approach saved communities from Covid. Now it’s time to tackle – Health News Today


I took part in a workshop recently where we were asked to describe an Aboriginal community controlled health organisation.

The answers from participants were revealing in that they did not mention GPs, nurses or community health programs. Instead they described a state of feeling: “a hug from an aunty or uncle”, a place “where you’re safe to just be”, “a place free from racism and prejudice”, a “connectedness”.

It is those underlying feelings, I believe – the feelings of connectivity, trust and safety – that kept our communities safe during the Covid-19 crisis response.

There are 58,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Victoria. This population is predicted to grow to 82,000 by 2030.

We saw six positive cases over the first few months of the pandemic and that rose to 74 cases during the second wave.

If we had seen a major outbreak or cluster, the outcomes would have been catastrophic.

Due to the government’s many failed attempts at closing the gap, our communities live with higher rates of the kind of pre-existing medical conditions that make us more vulnerable to coronavirus: heart and lung disease, diabetes and compromised immune systems.

In early March, when the pandemic hit, the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) did not want to take any chances.

We assembled our 32 Aboriginal organisations and met fortnightly with the state and federal governments, an arrangement that is still in place today.

We made sure we had the latest public health information, the latest data, that we could disseminate in our way. In our cultural shape. In ways our people would understand.

All 32 organisations continue to work tirelessly to keep our families and communities safe. There is no doubt this community-based health response stopped outbreaks and saved lives.

Many of our organisations transformed their workforces in a matter of days, moving to online arrangements to manage clients and staff.

Twenty-four of them provide Covid-19 testing supports.

The Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, an almost 50-year-old institution in the heart of Fitzroy, knew early on that social isolation would be a major issue, so it developed its own crisis line. Yarning Safe’n’Strong is a free and confidential phone crisis line. It is available 24 hours, seven days a week on 1800 959 563.

Many ACCOs continue to go above the call of duty – they work after hours to service families and communities, often unfunded.

One major challenge we will face in the weeks, months and years ahead is mental health and Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing.

In February, pre-Covid, we were a few days away from running a series of consultations with Aboriginal people across the state to support the royal commission into Victoria’s mental health system.

VACCHO’s mandate: talk to as many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as we could about ways to improve Victoria’s mental health system and develop a report to be tabled in…

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