How a ‘heaven-sent’ health worker is helping keep coronavirus cases low in the Indigenous community

Aunty Christine Charles gets her news delivered every Tuesday.Key points:Indigenous health workers are helping get the coronavirus message to people who aren’t connected onlineThe infection rate in the broader Victorian Indigenous community is relatively lowThe State Government’s official public health messaging has been criticised as hard to understandThat’s when Nellie Binmaarus knocks on her front door, to deliver a weekly package of food, toiletries, masks and health information.”She’s the message stick for me, she passes the message on for me,” Aunty Christine said. Aunty Christine is a Yorta Yorta woman in her 60s, and has not left the house much since March, except for daily walks around the park across the road.She does use her phone a lot, but gets most of her news from Ms Binmaarus, who is a Bardi Nyul Nyul woman from the Dampier Peninsula in the Kimberley and a health worker with CoHealth.”Yeah we’ve got the pamphlets, yeah we’ll read it later on, but it’s the word of mouth that gets it first,” Aunty Christine said.She said getting the message from someone in her community was really important.”She’s someone we can trust, she’s a blackfella herself, she’s got the faith, she knows our struggles,” Aunty Christine said. “I believe she’s doing so well for us, she’s heaven-sent.” Health worker Nellie Binmaarus delivers supplies and information.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)Aunty Christine is normally part of a group organised by CoHealth that catches up weekly at a park in Collingwood, in inner Melbourne.But since that has been ruled out due to health restrictions the meeting has been replaced with home deliveries.Ms Binmaarus said her knowledge of the group meant she was able to communicate important health information to them quickly, including printing out pamphlets where necessary.”Most of my clients don’t have access to the internet, computers, laptops, libraries, or anything to do with digital technologies,” she said.”Some of my clients aren’t able to read as well, so I make a phone call to say these are the new restrictions, have you heard about it, do you know?”She passes on information about how to make your own masks, changes in restrictions and where and when to get tested for coronavirus — and the results speak for themselves.”To know that none of my community members have had COVID or any close cases is really good, it tells me that they’re looking after themselves like we are, and good on them,” Ms Binmaarus said. Nellie Binmaarus says her community members are looking after themselves.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)Infection rates are low in the Indigenous community The infection rate in the broader Indigenous community is relatively low too. The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) reports five active cases among Indigenous Victorians, with 69 people having recovered from the virus. Jill Gallagher says knowing the community is crucial if authorities want to get important health messages out.(Supplied: Victorian Government)VACCHO chief executive, Jill Gallagher, a Gunditjmara woman, said the key was having strong relationships between the community and health organisations.”The secret recipe for us is, our organisations know our families, we know which ones of our families are vulnerable more so than another family, we know who has access to the internet, and which of us don’t,” she said.”So that knowing, the intimate knowledge of your community, is so crucial in getting those really important messages to your mob.”Ms Gallagher said from the beginning of the pandemic VACCHO staff distributed health messages in language that would be effective.”It’s about the language, it’s about the messaging and it’s about the look and feel,” she said. Improvements made to messagingLast month, the state’s Chief Health Officer, Professor Brett Sutton, said the state’s public health response was not doing enough to reach key groups.Some material translated into languages other than English was labelled “nonsensical” last month. Alison Coelho from the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health said in the early stages, the state’s public health communication was not good enough.”The information was — and still is, in some official realms — exceptionally difficult to understand unless you have an exceptionally high level of proficiency which requires university education, so that is not acceptable for the entire community,” she said.Ms Coelho said initially there was little or no translated material, and once the material was translated, it could be hard to find.”These communities and other vulnerable communities shouldn’t be perceived as an add-on to a mainstream strategy, they need to be thought of right from the beginning,” she said.

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