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08 Sep 2021

VCCC Alliance engaging in Aboriginal health

  • VCCC Alliance

Research and Education Lead in Aboriginal health has a role to play

A recent article, Diversity in clinical trials: an opportunity and imperative for community engagement has been published in The Lancet. 

The authors propose a community engagement model that may prove useful when addressing similar problems in Australia. 

“Leveraging partnerships between academia, community, government, and industry presents a tremendous opportunity to cultivate and sustain clinical trial diversity.” 

There is an increasing number of positive stories around improved cancer screening and outcomes amongst First Nations people. These stories share a strength-based, Indigenous-led approach to solutions. 

A case study: Beautiful Shawls project

The Beautiful Shawls project is one example of this. The project is a collaborative, community-led initiative that provides a safe and empowering breast screening experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Led by Breastscreen Victoria, VACCHO, Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, and eight Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) and local community artists, the project produced and provided customised screening shawls to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women that are culturally appropriate, familiar, and beautiful to wear during their screening.

“Aboriginal women have told us the shawls provide a culturally inclusive and positive breast screening experience. It is important we can reduce barriers to screening wherever possible because early detection saves lives." - Terri Smith, CEO Breastscreen Victoria 

Resources and effort required

Every day around five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are diagnosed with cancer. Indigenous Australians have a slightly higher rate of cancer diagnosis and are approximately 40 per cent more likely to die from cancer than non-Indigenous Australians. 

Stats Gail Garvey

St Vincent’s Health Australia (SVHA) has recently outlined its approach to improving cancer care and prevention for Australia’s First Nations people. 

Professor Gail Garvey, Senior Research Fellow SVHA and recently appointed Professor of Indigenous Health Research in the School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of Queensland spoke at a Monday Lunch Live presentation in July to outline the SVHA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Advocacy Strategy 2021-23

One of her key messages was that change requires top-level engagement and support for a system-wide level approach and that resources and effort are required.

Darlene Dreise, Chair, SVHA Reconciliation Action Plan says, “We have statistics galore that tell us our health and wellness outcomes are below that of our non-Indigenous counterparts. This knowledge led SVHA to examine current practices within their settings to see how they could improve those but also across the national landscape." 

Aboriginal OCP StVs

Credit: St Vincent's Hospital Australia 

Research and Education Lead (R&E Lead) Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health

The VCCC Alliance's new Health Equity Program has been established to address areas where a difference can be made in overcoming disparities in cancer-related health research and care. 

A vital part of the program’s work is to appoint an R&E Lead, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health to provide leadership and support to identify and address inequities consistent with the VCCC Alliance Strategic Program Plan 2021-24. 

Health Equity Steering Group consumer representative Melissa Sheldon has been living with cancer for more than a decade and said listening and being flexible in their approach will be essential to gaining trust.

“As a proud Wemba Wemba woman, I have witnessed the difference in cancer care for people in vulnerable groups. By listening to the voices of patients and their communities, the program can build sustainable health equity: a human right for all,” she said. 

“We have a talented and experienced steering group who bring diverse perspectives and lived experience to the group as well as understanding of city and regional communities. We are working to engage with a broad range of Indigenous health and advocacy organisations.” 

Cancers with poor outcomes

Activities driven by the Health Equity Steering Group will also focus on culturally and linguistically diverse communities and will address cancers with poorer outcomes such and lung and pancreatic.

Melissa reflects on similarities with the SVHA Advocacy Strategy. “Optimal Care Pathways are an area for us to focus on. We are just now beginning to come together but there is an opportunity for the initiatives we undertake to have value not just in Victoria but Australia-wide. 

“Within our group, we have medical, surgical, service delivery expertise as well as valuable networks and connections. The R&E Lead will have a ready-made resource to draw upon. 

“We all want the best outcomes for this program,” said Melissa 

Expressions of interest for the R&E Lead Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health fractional appointment close on Monday 13 September 2021. 

For more information, contact Dr Vijaya Joshi, VCCC Alliance Health Equity Manager.


Image: Health Equity Program Steering Group member Melissa Sheldon with Mr Anthony Carbines, Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Professor Grant McArthur, VCCC Alliance Executive Director.