Australia

The remote South Australian dialysis unit keeping Aboriginal patients on country

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Some Aboriginal dialysis patients of the remote APY Lands used to have to move over a thousand kilometres away from their community to get treatment, but this centre is helping them stay on country.

Dirk Jackson is obsessed with the country-western television series Bonanza. 

For four to five hours a day, three times a week as he goes through his dialysis treatment he watches the show, along with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood films. 

In July this year, the 50-year-old’s kidney’s failed and Mr Jackson had to move to Adelaide - more than 1,300 kilometres away from his home in Pukatja in the remote APY Lands to get treatment.  

“I feel lonely and I feel like I got nobody here to talk to me (in Adelaide),” he told SBS News. 

“Back home you got families here and you see a lot of people here, but when you’re in the city or town you feel homesick. You need to see your family,” he told SBS News. 

For four to five hours a day, three times a week Mr Jackson goes through dialysis treatment.
For four to five hours a day, three times a week Mr Jackson goes through dialysis treatment.
SBS News

When Mr Jackson got the news the first remote dialysis unit in the APY Lands was being opened he was so happy that he could soon be returning to the country. 

“From there they said we are going to send you back to Ernabella (Pukatja) and I just got really happy and I said I want to go home. I want to see my wife, I have my nephews and niece and my grandson, that’s why I came back,” he said. 

The APY Lands, which stands for Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, is a remote Aboriginal-owned local government area in the north-west corner of South Australia.

The vast arid lands of the Central and Western Desert is home to about 3,000 people spread across around a dozen small communities. 

The dialysis centre at Pukatja, also known as Ernabella, was established and run by Purple House, a non-government organisation which has been running dialysis centres in Aboriginal communities across the most remote parts of the country since 2004. 

The four-bed dialysis centre cost around $2.5 million dollars to set up, with most of the money coming from the federal government. The community also chipped in, with the local arts centre selling paintings to raise $170,000 towards the centre. 

Before the clinic opened the nearest hospital was in Alice Springs, which is more than 400 kilometres away.  

Anangu woman Yanyi Bandicha, who is the director of the Anangu-led Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council, told SBS News the community had been fighting for a dialysis centre for a decade. 

When Mr Jackson got the news that the first remote dialysis unit in the APY Lands was being opened he was so happy that he could soon be returning to country.
When Mr Jackson got the news that the first remote dialysis unit in the APY Lands was being opened he was so happy that he could soon be returning to country.
SBS News

“I saw a lot of our people going to Alice Springs for renal (dialysis). I had brother, cousin and sister and also my husband who was on renal in Alice Springs,” she said. 

“There were a lot of people who were living in Alice Springs going to renal dialysis there and same time they were fighting for dialysis to be put in the centre in Pitjantjatjara land,”. 

Dialysis nurse Sandi Hawkes said prior to the centre opening some patients needing dialysis who didn’t want to leave their country for treatment would simply pass away. 

“Many of them have been stuck in Adelaide or Alice for years, but to just see them back home, with their families, they’re smiling, they’re happy,” she said. 

Ms Bandicha said she is proud to now have a dialysis centre that belongs to the whole community. 

“Now the people are happy here because they have their own dialysis on the land,”. 

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