Supporting prevention and management of COVID-19 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), the Lowitja Institute, and The Australian National University (ANU) are working together to provide practical and timely advice for primary healthcare teams supporting prevention and management of COVID-19 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia.
An expert committee guiding the work is providing recommendations for healthcare workers operating in Aboriginal community controlled health services and other primary care settings.
Tomorrow is the beginning of National Reconciliation Week where all Australians are encouraged to consider and embrace the theme “in this together”, and to take part in online events as well as use the hashtags #NRW2020 and #InThisTogether2020 to help spread awareness.
The recommendations focus on several vital issues including best practice for transporting patients who do not have confirmed or probable COVID-19 but do have a fever or respiratory symptoms as well as quarantine measures for healthcare workers travelling to remote communities.
The recommendations also zero in on quarantine measures for healthcare workers travelling from higher prevalence areas to low prevalence areas.
Chair of the Expert Committee Dr Tanya Schramm said that the clinical recommendations will be updated on an ongoing basis.
“They will have to be updated as we watch and wait and see what actually happens in the COVID-19 space.
“The recommendations that we’ll be coming up with at the moment are all about obviously preventing it and identifying people who may have COVID-19 and how we're going to go about it. But things will change and we just need to be ready to adapt as I guess the story of COVID-19 changes in the country and the risk of exposure for us as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people changes.
“Thankfully at the moment we've sort of flattened the curve and I think that will hopefully leave us in a space where we're not looking at handling an acute outbreak in a community. But I think we need to be ready to respond to something if that's to happen.
Dr Schramm says it is vital that GPs and other healthcare workers continue to be mindful of the risk the COVID-19 virus poses to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“If someone was to contract that and the issues with regards to being able to isolate that person within a community, within a home that may be overcrowded, and so forth.
“They need to make sure that they are providing the appropriate resources to their patients just in terms of even prevention, that the information they're getting out to patients is culturally appropriate [and that] it’s in the language in which the patient actually speaks as their first language – don't assume that English is everybody's first language when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.
“Also reading what is actually happening, so keeping an eye out for the recommendations as they're coming out, and looking at how that may reflect on your practice and the services that you're providing.”
CEO of NACCHO, Pat Turner, said that the COVID-19 virus presented particular challenges for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“It has been recognised that COVID-19 poses a serious risk to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people due to higher levels of chronic conditions exacerbated by overcrowded housing.
“Working on the response to this pandemic comes with huge responsibility and requires partnership with the best in the sector to deliver clinically strong and culturally appropriate recommendations for our people.
“It is an honour to partner with the RACGP, Lowitja and ANU to release the COVID-19 Primary Healthcare Guidance to provide quality guidance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“We have been working with our Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services to develop possible emergency response plans and these resources will help in ensuring accurate and timely information is being shared responsibly.
“This guidance will strengthen their ability to manage the ongoing threat in this environment and the impacts of the pandemic which is rapidly changing.”
CEO of the Lowitja Institute, Janine Mohamed, said Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander health organisations have been leading the way and will continue to do so.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander health organisations’ prompt responses have shown outstanding innovation and leadership to mitigate risk and protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities from COVID-19.
“This collaboration will further strengthen that work for all our peoples, who face high risk due to historic and ongoing system failures and have been disproportionately affected in past pandemics.
“COVID-19 makes it more important than ever that our people are able to access culturally safe health services that combat racism in our health system because, if they can’t, they will not seek out care or work in and with those services.
“The pandemic also requires us to be quick, informed, innovative and flexible in our clinical and community responses. We are proud to be working with NACCHO, the Royal Australian College of GPs, and ANU on such a critical, evidence-based undertaking.”
The RACGP and NACCHO have previously collaborated on the National Guide to a preventive health assessment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – a flagship publication, spearheaded by NACCHO, now in its third edition.
At a ceremony in Darwin last year a new MoU was also signed between the organisations driven by a shared commitment to support the growth of the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors and ensure GPs are equipped to provide clinically and culturally appropriate primary healthcare.