During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that the elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions and immunocompromised people are at higher risk of severe illness and death, and that many First Nations people fall into these high-risk categories.
Carissa Lee Godwin, Editor of the Analysis and Policy Observatory’s First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, explores how Aboriginal-led health organisations are ensuring First Nations communities’ health needs are being met during the pandemic. This is a major issue for nations with Indigenous populations across the world, and a previous ANZSOG article has looked at issues in New Zealand, the USA and Canada.
Although Australia’s governments have implemented broad strategies to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, First Nations people need plans of action that are tailored to their respective needs as communities. Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOS), including the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW and the Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia, have put together First Nations-led toolkits for their communities to combat and prevent cases of COVID-19:
These resources highlight the importance of working with First Nations communities to ascertain the specific solutions that will work best for them. One of the recommendations to aid the prevention, treatment and recovery of COVID-19 cases, is to address the unique needs and challenges of each community that need to be navigated in culturally safe ways, including:
Both toolkits have created strategies that deal with the prevention and treatment of potential COVID-19 cases in ways that allow for flexible and responsive modes of care and for First Nations input to be interlaced throughout the processes:
First Nations people need to feel as if they can access healthcare without the risk of judgment, and to know that identifying and addressing their needs will be a collaborative process between them and health workers. This applies not only during a pandemic, but more generally. Since the failures iterated in the recent Closing the Gap 2020 report, the proposed partnership of Aboriginal groups with governments has recognised that the best plan of action is to involve Aboriginal groups in efforts to close the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. This latest Closing the Gap report proves that the governments must listen to First Nations people about what they need in the areas of health, education and employment.
First Nations-led resources such as these toolkits are essential to ensure not only that needs are being met to provide communities with proficient healthcare during a pandemic, but also that wellbeing and quality of life can always be maintained. Both resources make it clear that it is important to offer community-based ways of delivering health services that inform and empower First Nations people to decide how they want to approach their healthcare options. Challenges such as poor housing, accessibility to health services, and social issues also need to be addressed to ensure that First Nations people can survive this pandemic.