On Thursday 24 February team members from Aurion and across our parent company RGF Staffing were invited to explore Indigenous health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic with one of Australia’s leading public health experts, Dr Dawn Casey.

Dr Casey is a Tagalaka Traditional Owner from North Queensland and deputy CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO). NACCHO is the national leadership body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in Australia, and who’s members operate around 300 clinics across the country.

Team members from throughout RGF Staffing APEJ businesses collectively donated around $15,000 to NACCHO over the past summer to promote the uptake of vaccinations in Indigenous communities.

Our CEO Peter Acheson introduced Dr Casey and highlighted how our involvement with NACCHO helps fulfil the overall aim of our group Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP): to improve the health and employment prospects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The webinar was a great opportunity to learn more about NACCHO’s positive impact and why Reconciliation is so important for RGF Staffing and Aurion – and be inspired to take action ourselves.

Community initiatives
Dr Casey gave us insight into the NACCHO mission and projects and shared how our RGF Staffing fundraising has supported their current initiatives.

“One of the interesting things about my job is that all of the staff love their work,” said Dr Casey. “Every day we deal with every disease you can imagine and few you can’t, because they don’t exist in the general community.”

Perhaps the most common of those diseases is acute rheumatic fever, which if untreated by antibiotics, can turn into rheumatic heart disease. The issue for many Indigenous people is the difficulty of getting into a clinic regularly to receive penicillin injections.

Another health issues disproportionately affecting Indigenous people is lack of quality treatment for cancer, exacerbated by a combination of remoteness, comorbidity, and late diagnosis. This is a challenge where ‘telehealth’ has great potential as a solution, in this case a remotely guided ultrasound exam could be used to diagnose rhematic fever.

Why is there such inequality in health outcomes for Indigenous people?

Dr Casey said that it’s the result of putting people who were hunter-gatherers into artificial, sedentary environments, coupled with policies and programs that embedded economic inequity. Indigenous people are catching diseases just from where they’re living.

Local solutions
NACCHO can often implement new programs much faster than the more centralised government health infrastructure. Dr Casey co-chairs the COVID-19 Indigenous Advisory Committee and says that the government really listens to them: “Vaccines are sent out directly to our community-controlled health services, funding goes out to assist in a major way.”

“However, with the money you’ve provided to us, we’ve been able to do lots of extra things like food hampers. There’s a whole range of little things that can happen to help people, because you have to go beyond what you have to do in cities.”

Dr Casey explained how purchasing gear for a women’s footy team could have a positive health outcome. “Women in the Kimberley decided to set up an AFL team to share with less stigma information about syphilis and safe sex and encourage people to be tested.”

Indigenous advocacy
One major achievement that took five years to realise, saw NACCHO working with the federal and state health departments, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and pharmaceutical companies to ensure Indigenous people can receive co-payments for medicine on the Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme (PBS), which would otherwise be out of their reach.

NACCHO is also helping their member organisations create submissions for financial support from a new $240m fund for infrastructure and building works for Indigenous healthcare providers.

They also lobby regulators and legislators on behalf of their members on a wide range of issue. Recently, Dr Casey and NACCHO have addressed proposals to:

  • reduce beer excise; open a Dan Murphy’s in Darwin
  • allow pharmacists to provide kinds of healthcare currently performed by GPs or nurses
  • improve road safety, because the rate of death and damage from car accidents is substantially higher for Indigenous people.

Find out more: Read Dr Casey’s acceptance speech for the Public Health Association of Australia’s top annual prize, the Sidney Sax Medal, in September 2021.

Special thanks to the Reconciliation Action Plan Committee for organising the webinar, and the other stories and events they’ve brought us:

We would like to acknowledge and pay our respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, past, present and emerging, whose land we stand upon today.