Protecting Indigenous Populations From Covid-19: The Australian Example

Indigenous populations around the world are more likely to be infected by or die of Covid-19. In countries like Canada and Brazil and in the US, Indigenous people are dying at disparate rates to the general population. However there is one notable exception; Indigenous Australians (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders). Despite having a life expectancy around 8 years less than non-Indigenous populations and overall worse health outcomes, Indigenous Australians were six times less likely to contract Covid-19. Zero deaths and just 148 cases of coronavirus were reported for 800,000 Indigenous people across the country.

How did they achieve such a remarkable result? In contrast to previous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders health policies and interventions, the Australian government worked collaboratively with Indigenous communities. They provided flexible grant funding in March 2020 to 110 remote communities, allowing local Indigenous controlled health agencies to run a culturally aware response. As the scale of the pandemic became apparent, the government funding increased with $6.9 million invested in the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and $123 million available over two financial years for targeted measures to support Indigenous businesses and communities to increase their responses to COVID-19.

Lines of communication between Aboriginal health organizations and government officials had recently opened because of a plan to address a syphilis outbreak using local Indigenous health services. Australia’s chief medical officer at the time, Brendan Murphy, supported the approach, which helped smooth the way for a community-led approach to the coronavirus.

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Originally published on Forbes on May 5, 2021

 

 

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.