COVID-19 guidance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

26/05/2020 12:45:57 PM

The first set of clinical recommendations for the prevention and management of COVID-19 has been released.

Aboriginal woman and child
The recommendations were developed for healthcare workers operating in Aboriginal community controlled health services and other primary care settings.

‘We have always known that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services, communities and representative organisations are best placed to ensure a culturally safe and effective response to health problems – what we must recognise is that this COVID-19 pandemic is no different.’
That is Dr Tanya Schramm, a Palawa woman and Chair of the Expert Committee behind the  recommendations developed by the RACGP, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), the Lowitja Institute, and the Australian National University.
Accessible via NACCHO’s website, the recommendations will continually be updated and released on a rolling basis throughout the pandemic.
Developed for healthcare workers operating in Aboriginal community controlled health services and other primary care settings, the initial recommendations focus on several vital issues, including:

  • best practice for transporting patients who do not have confirmed or probable SARS CoV-2 (COVID-19) with or without fever or respiratory symptoms
  • quarantine measures required for healthcare workers travelling to remote communities
  • quarantine measures required for healthcare workers travelling from higher prevalence to low prevalence areas.
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said the advice is based on the best available clinical evidence, while also being cultural appropriate.
‘We are going about this in a comprehensive manner, including rapid evidence summaries by university-based teams, examination of evidence and expert review, as well as endorsement by identified expert reviewers and lead agencies,’ he said.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, given the high prevalence of chronic illness present from a younger age.
Dr Schramm believes the guidance will make a real difference in health outcomes.
‘This work fills a critical knowledge gap in clinical advice regarding the prevention of COVID-19 in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,’ she said.
‘It’s all about making sure the right people have the right information – it’s as simple as that.’
Dr Schramm says efforts by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led organisations to keep communities safe have been ‘fantastic’.
The latest epidemiology report released by the Department of Health shows that, up to 10 May, a total of 59 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background, the majority of which were reported in major cities with no known cases from remote areas.
‘There’s been a lot of stuff coming through NACCHO from lots of different Aboriginal Medical Services and communities where they have transferred the information on washing your hands and coughing into your elbow, and the message about what COVID-19 is has been put into multiple different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages across the country,’ Dr Schramm told newsGP.
‘There have been lots of videos with dancing, songs, things that are quite culturally appropriate and very useful in our community.’
As restrictions in many states start to loosen, Dr Schramm said it is important GPs and other healthcare workers continue to be mindful of the risk COVID-19 poses to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
‘We shouldn’t just aim for high-quality healthcare, we need culturally responsive care, too,’ Dr Schramm said.
‘They need to make sure that they are providing the appropriate resources to their patients just in terms of even prevention, that the information they’re getting out to patients is culturally appropriate [and that] it’s in the language in which the patient actually speaks as their first language.
‘Don't assume that English is everybody's first language when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.’
While numbers remain relatively low, Dr Schramm acknowledged that the pandemic’s future trajectory remains unknown and it is important for healthcare workers to be armed with knowledge to respond.
‘The recommendations that we’ll be coming up with at the moment are all about preventing the virus and identifying people who may have COVID-19 and how we’re going to go about that,’ she said.
‘But things will change and we just need to be ready to adapt as the story of COVID-19 changes and the risk of exposure for us as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people changes.’
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clinical guidance coronavirus COVID-19


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Dr Michael Willoughby Nixon   27/05/2020 10:19:32 AM

Many thanks - an Important message - especially for us working in Indigenous Medical services.