• Current modelling of the coronavirus demonstrates that for those in community who are more at risk, precautions must be taken to protect yourself. (Getty)
OPINION: Everywhere we are being told not to panic, yet the government has failed to show strong leadership and reassurance to the public, and vulnerable mob are rightly panicked about what the future holds, writes Dr Tess Ryan.
By
Tess Ryan

Source:
NITV News
19 Mar 2020 - 12:57 AM  UPDATED 19 Mar 2020 - 12:57 AM

For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, chronic conditions are just a part of life. We have all seen the statistics regarding our health, mortality and what kind of issues our families and communities go through.

That is what it feels like now, in the midst of this Coronavirus. Like so many other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people I know, in both urban and remote areas, we are all wondering how this will work.

Recent announcements of the cancellation of permits to enter into remote NT communities is just part of an attempt to mitigate infection for those with health complications and limited access. In urban environments, access will also be an issue due to longer wait times and people rushing to medical services.

There are large gaps in process also, and as someone who is immune-compromised, I am currently feeling those gaps right now.

My family consists of an elderly mother with heart and lung issues living in a small country town in New South Wales, and an oldest sister with the same condition as me, living close to the Coronavirus hot spot in Sydney. Seven years ago, she nearly died of respiratory failure and was placed in a coma for nine days.

My brother is on a disability pension and accessing health services weekly, and my other sister has a number of serious health issues, and is living in the United States.

There are large gaps in process also, and as someone who is immune-compromised, I am currently feeling those gaps right now.

If I allow myself to think too much about what could happen to my family members, I render myself immobile and anxious. Everywhere we are being told not to panic, yet the government has failed to show strong leadership and reassurance to the public, and people are rightly panicked about what the future holds.

Social distancing, correct hand washing procedures and the closing down of outdoor gatherings that are over 500 people and placing an upper limit of 100 for any gathering indoors are now in play for everyone in Australia. Current modelling of the coronavirus demonstrates that for those in community who are more at risk, stricter precautions must be taken to protect your health.

For my conditions, I have chosen to isolate myself by staying at home to safe-guard against any opportunity to become infected with COVID-19. Having previous experience of secondary infections (flu, chest infections, etc.) that have put me into the intensive care ward means that I have a very good understanding of what can happen to my body when put under stress.

Calls for mob with chronic illness to stay on Country as COVID-19 cases rise
Concerns about what Coronavirus, or COVID-19, means for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with chronic health conditions continue to mount.

We need stronger messaging for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who suffer these chronic conditions, as we already deal with a health system that can make assumptions based on our culture, and stereotype us into being somehow negligent in the management of our healthcare.

The reality is that the system itself creates barriers, obstacles for many mob that results in us staying away from healthcare services, or in the system denying us appropriate care and which often leads to devastating results.

I currently access a non-Indigenous heath care service due to location and access to transport, and while they do some things effectively, I am regularly seeing gaps in the ways in which they treat me as an Aboriginal woman with a chronic condition. I don’t feel I am listened to and the multidisciplinary care I receive is lacking.

They forget to place on my scripts that I am under the Closing the Gap policy, they forget also that I will push to create a sense of autonomy over my own chronic condition and argue with them over some of the blame discourse they may use in speaking to me.

I am regularly seeing gaps in the ways in which they treat me as an Aboriginal woman with a chronic condition.

Recently, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulatory Agency (Ahpra), announced their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Cultural Safety Strategy which will direct over 740,000 registered health practitioners across Australia. This is great news if these expert guidelines are effectively implemented and managed in order to change the delivery of health to our people.

In this current crisis, we see how strong our communities are in the way services work to assist. The Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Centres that provide such well-balanced and connected care are regularly doing so under tight government conditions related to policy funding. Yet, at times, they are delivering a better level of health care. One that is also culturally competent and safe for mob. 

One service in Melbourne is putting together specific management plans for those with chronic conditions and offering over the phone consultations for those already utilising their service. Often it is our services who are genuinely doing the work to ensure our communities stay strong. They are putting out messages clearly, and because they look after us, we listen.

We also care for community in the digital space, and currently while isolated I see many of us sharing advice, care and distracting with stories and TikTok clips. This must be part of what keeps us going, because if we are all self-isolating, our digital communities are going to become much more important in the coming months.

Now more than ever, we need to reach out and create safe spaces for discussion and assistance if needed. And pay acknowledgement to all our frontline health care workers and professionals who are themselves working hard to keep us all strong.

'Peak' of COVID-19 yet to come Indigenous doctor warns
The peak of the COVID-19 virus may be yet to come according to a leading Indigenous doctor, who says he is particularly concerned about risks to Indigenous people in rural and remote communities.

-Dr Tess Ryan is a Biripi woman and Melbourne-based academic and writer. Her work focuses on Black women, power, representation, and leadership.

As of Tuesday afternoon, only people who have recently travelled from overseas or have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case and experienced symptoms within 14 days are advised to be tested.
 
If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor, don’t visit, or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. 
 
If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.