Since COVID-19 began, people from indigenous communities around the world have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. However, in Australia, only 153 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people have been infected by COVID-19, and thankfully none have died.
According to international business magazine, Forbes, this result is ‘remarkable’, and partly thanks to lessons learnt from the H1N1 influenza pandemic. When H1N1 hit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in 2009, the diagnosis rates, hospitalisations and intensive care unit admissions were at multiple times the rates of non-Indigenous Australians. “After the lessons of the H1N1 influenza pandemic, Aboriginal doctors and leaders were acutely aware of how vulnerable Indigenous populations would be to the COVID-19 virus and acted quickly”, explains Forbes.
When the coronavirus pandemic started, remote community borders were closed very early on and funding was provided to the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and the sector for local community preparedness grants. Rapid coronavirus testing sites were set up in remote and rural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Strong public health messaging supported focus on keeping Elders safe.
The partnership between NACCHO and the Australian Government was key to act quickly and stop the spread. “It was supposed to be a disaster, but because they acted so responsibly, it was a model of how to prevent an epidemic in a high-risk population. It just shows what happens when Aboriginal leadership is listened to.”