As of last week, a free meningococcal vaccine has been offered to remote West Australian communities after an outbreak of a potentially deadly strain in central Australia.
It comes after 29 cases of meningococcal were reported in WA this year alone. In just two months, since August 2017 when 18 cases of Meningococcal were reported, 11 additional cases have now been diagnosed. A radical jump that has left locals fearing the deadly disease could continue to rapidly rise.
An Elder from the Tanami desert fears that as the disease continues to grow, those that are affected most are being left behind.
“My biggest worry is that people don’t know,” the Elder who did not wish to be named explained.
“They’re doing all this stuff on television, radio and internet - but they don’t know that a lot of Aboriginal desert people don’t have the money for this kind of stuff.”
The outbreak has mostly affected Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and South Australia, but the vaccination program will help prevent the further spread of disease-causing bacteria into bordering WA communities.
The free vaccination program will be distributed by the WA Country Health Service to people of all ages until December 17.
The local Elder says there needs to be a bigger push for spreading the message from local health organisations.
“It’s great that there are free vaccinations but people need to know about it, to get it. We don’t want to start losing our mob just because they’re uninformed,” he urged.
“This disease can kill people. It needs to be treated. Just one jab in your arm to save your life – that’s worth it.”
“Indigenous remote communities don’t have a loud voice but larger cities do - so people need to speak up on their behalf."
Aboriginal health services across Western Australia are working to alert rural community members without access to technological devices.
Yura Yungi Medical Service Aboriginal Corporation recently sent nurses with vaccines out to rural communities such as Ringer Soak, just outside Halls Creek, to assist around 50 Indigenous people with getting treatment free of charge.
Another Aboriginal health service in Kununurra has been targeting Aboriginal youth aged 15 to 19 as the concern falls on young people carrying the disease. Free meningococcal vaccines were distributed at local schools and a record of students who weren’t attending class was sent out to ensure all Aboriginal people between that age group received appropriate vaccinations.
The outbreak is leaving the Tanami desert Elder and other worried community members baffled as to why treatment and vaccinations were not provided at an early stage.
It was only in August this year, where a West Australian teenager died while travelling in Tasmania, from a case of the deadly meningococcal W strain, making him the second person from WA to succumb to the disease after an elderly person also passed away in May. Last year saw 23 cases of the disease and three deaths.
Towards the beginning of the year, David Pav, a concerned community member and Indigenous activist from Ceduna in South Australia had a relative fall sick with Meningococcal. He said locals received prevention treatment and vaccines not long after the diagnosis. Hearing about the recent outbreak in WA, he is disappointed that remote communities are being ‘forgotten’.
“It’s a bit of a worry that we’ve had a program here rolled out at the beginning of the year and only now WA is seeing treatment available. It’s clear that remote communities are forgotten about.”
Pav said people need to have their voices heard in order for change.
“Indigenous remote communities don’t have a loud voice but larger cities do - so people need to speak up on their behalf… Why take so long to prevent a deadly disease?” he said.
“What we do know is that most of the people that are affected don’t use modern electronic devices and today you’ve got to be wired to keep up with the news. There needs to be more communication with health services and community councils to ensure that everyone’s kept in the loop and briefed on what’s happening.”
When it comes to closing the gap for Indigenous communities, Pav thinks Australia is well behind.
“With things like health I think the current government needs a rocket put up its backside.”
“If they want to close the gap they’re going the wrong way about.”