• Peak health organisations in the NT are calling for urgent support from the Commonwealth to deal with the current COVID outbreak. (AAP)Source: AAP
The Northern Territory has confirmed 418 new COVID cases as the virus continues to spread to vulnerable remote communities.
Keira Jenkins

19 Jan 2022 - 4:39 PM  UPDATED 19 Jan 2022 - 4:39 PM

Peak Indigenous organisations in the Northern Territory are calling for support from the Federal Government as the COVID-19 outbreak in the Top End continues to grow.

Aboriginal Peak Organisations (APO) NT spokesperson John Paterson said the Territory is in urgent need of support.

"The multiple outbreaks we are now seeing in remote communities and in our towns have been fuelled by a critical shortage of workforce, testing and logistical capacity," he told NITV News. 

“Critical shortages in availability of Rapid Antigen Tests is leaving Aboriginal health and community service organisations with insufficient capacity to test their own staff, let alone the needs of the community members they serve.

"It is leading to (a) rapid, avoidable spread of the virus," he said.

Mr Patterson also raised concerns about staff shortages, putting the health system under increasing pressure.

“A critical health workforce shortage is also slowing efforts to improve vaccination rates, with primary doses ongoing and the urgent need to provide boosters and the commencement of vaccinations of 5-11-year-olds stretching vaccination teams," he said.

“A surge workforce is urgently needed to deal with the current crisis.

“Concern is also being raised at the local level about a looming food security crisis."

'Missed opportunities'

Central Australian Aboriginal Congress CEO Sheralee Taylor confirmed there have been issues with supplies of RAT tests and health staff shortages in Alice Springs. The health service have had to pivot to keep up with the rising cases of COVID.

"We are thankful and lucky to the staff that we do have that we've been able to sort of pull some resources together to respond appropriately to our current situation," she said.

"We've made some decisions about reducing or temporarily closing some of our satellite clinics so that we can divert... and redeploy staff, to provide other primary health care services or COVID response."

Ms Taylor said she's also seen a lot of "missed opportunities" when it comes to getting people in the NT vaccinated.

"I think there's been a lot of hesitancy for people to get vaccinated and certainly as an organisation, we've employed people to engage with the community about vaccinations (and) answer their questions if they're concerned," she said.

"We've done a lot of work in this space and I think that hasn't been properly replicated to other remote communities.

"So I think while the vaccine has been available, there's also been a lot of missed opportunity in terms of community engagement..."

'Information in all languages'

Melanie Herdman from Miwatj Health Service in East Arnhem Land said accessing resources in language is another barrier for many people in remote communities.

"I think it's important to remember that most of the resources and education that were developed two years ago was not in first languages," she said.

"It's critical... to understand that English is not our first language and that we need to provide education and information in all languages..."

"We've really tried hard internally at Miwatj and also with organisations here in Northeast Arnhem Land to develop resources that are in Yolngu Matha and spoken by more people in their first language.

As the outbreak continues to grow, Ms Herdman said it's important for communities to get vaccinated and remain vigilant against COVID-19.

"When people do feel symptoms, or believe that they've been in contact with a positive case... (get) tested,"she said.

"But also (follow) the public health messaging of social distancing, ensuring that you're wearing a mask in public spaces, such as the shops.

"It's not just in Darwin. It's in our community and informing yourself with the right information through trusted sources, not just going onto social media and listening to stories that might not be true.

"Just keep doing well and keeping your families informed."

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