Aboriginal-led responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis have resulted in “extraordinarily” low infection rates among Indigenous communities, a feat that greatly outperforms infection rates in non-Indigenous Australians and inverts the belief that First Nations peoples are at higher risk from the virus.
According to National Indigenous Television (NITV), there are 60 COVID-19 cases among Australia’s Indigenous population.
There have been no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander deaths or intensive care hospitalisations and no confirmed cases in remote communities.
As a whole, Australia has recorded around 10,000 cases.
According to a range of Indigenous-health experts, three methods have proved most effective in reducing transmission.
Epidemiologist Professor Fiona Stanley said the expected health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians “completely reversed” thanks to increased training within Aboriginal-controlled health services, Indigenous-tailored media messaging and the promotion of consistent, culturally appropriate health literacy.
During a panel discussion on the success of the Aboriginal-led health response, hosted by The Australia Institute think tank, Stanley said the health outcomes among Indigenous Australians are “better than any other Indigenous nation internationally.”
Aboriginal-led responses to the pandemic have achieved low rates of infection amongst Indigenous communities, and have "outperformed the rest of the community” say community health experts. https://t.co/kLKBKokgao@nadine_silva_ reports.— NITV (@NITV) July 10, 2020
Various Aboriginal-controlled health services used social media platforms to convey Indigenous-tailored health messaging.
The Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia uploaded animated videos to Facebook to convey messaging on social distancing and the importance of maintaining regular check-ups using telehealth services.
The health promotion team at Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service, meanwhile, featured regularly on Noongar Radio, an Aboriginal community station, to inform individuals on appropriate hygiene practices.
"We reassured our community and made sure our messaging was consistent,” Francine Eades, a board member with Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service, said during the panel discussion.
Indigenous athletes also used their status to convey critical health messages.
According to NITV, Aboriginal-controlled services across the country also succeeded in limiting transition by observing and responding to failures by mainstream health systems. Some remote communities, including the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands and communities in Far North Queensland, also quietly closed their borders ahead of government advice.
The Australia Institute’s chief economist Richard Denniss said much can be learnt from the Aboriginal-led response.
During the panel discussion, Denniss highlighted how health, social and policy frameworks are continuously implemented without consultation from Indigenous voices — which often prove to be ineffective and costly.
It is far more effective from an economic, democratic and evidence point of view, Denniss added, to give Indigenous Australians the power to take control of the policies that affect them.
"In Australia, we’re so used to hearing about how Indigenous people have fallen behind — and that we have some obligation to help them,” he said. “Enquiry after enquiry, for decades, has said that, whatever the problem, whether it be health or education, the first step is to sit down and talk to the community about their perspective of the problem and their expectations of a solution.”
Denniss added: “It’s typically paid lip service, but what we’ve now seen is this remarkable success where groups that statistically should have had all the risk factors going against them have outperformed the rest of the community. Why? Because the intervention started with a conversation and designing back from what the community needed.”