Marie McInerney reports:
The Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA) has put research high on the agenda at its 2014 conference, calling for full participation by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in research projects that concern them, particularly when it comes to scientific study and medical research.
“At every stage, research with, and about, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be founded on a process of meaningful engagement and reciprocity,” AIDA President Dr Tammy Kimpton told delegates in her opening speech. “We must be actively engaged and regarded as equal participants in these processes.”
AIDA has also called on the Federal Government to support its work in growing the number of Indigenous doctors – who have doubled in number to 204 over the past seven years, saying this clearly fits Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s focus in Indigenous affairs on employment, education and health outcomes.
And the peak body is encouraging a broad range of Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations to join up as Associate Members to both strengthen its work and provide funding sustainability into the future, especially those partners with which it already works closely.
The conference is being held amid great uncertainty around Indigenous health and education funding, with many services and organisations – including AIDA itself – currently guaranteed Federal Government funding only until 30 June 2015.
Kimpton highlighted two of the biggest concerns: the proposed introduction of the GP co-payment (although today’s headlines suggest some uncertainty around the future of this proposal) and the threat to funding of the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS) model of care.
The ACCHS model, she said, is “best placed to provide both culturally safe and clinically appropriate health care” for Indigenous Australians.
In a video address, she said a reframed National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan, developed under the former Labor Government, would be released soon, with progress also on an implementation plan.
This year’s AIDA conference theme is ‘Science and traditional knowledge: foundations for a strong future’, and will feature research work being undertaken by Indigenous doctors, researchers and medical students.
The focus follows the release last year of the AIDA Research Agenda which spans six priority areas including: health service delivery; chronic disease and cancer; social and emotional wellbeing; mental health; Indigenous community driven research; and Indigenous health workforce.
The Research Agenda also aims to increase the pool of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students and doctors undertaking research, both within their medical professions, and as researchers.
It will look to do so through mentoring and building on partnerships with universities, medical schools, and research institutes to offer more access to scholarships and fellowships and designated research positions.
Under the Agenda, an AIDA Research Masterclass was recently delivered by the Wardliparingga Aboriginal Research Unit at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) to show how research can improve healthcare and patient safety for Aboriginal and Torres Islander peoples, she said.
It also provided AIDA members with a sound understanding of how to develop a research proposal and how to conduct research ethically.
Kimpton said it is not that long ago that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were subjected to negative medical interventions, research and scientific tests because of their race or the colour of their skin.
“These experiments and beliefs – primarily based on views of Darwinism, survival of the fittest, the evolutionary chain and assimilation – were both detrimental to our mob and marginalised us from mainstream Australian society,” she said.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be involved in the benefits and outcomes of research, she said.
“What is even better – and even more appropriate – is when we lead and deliver on our own research agenda. “
“This will ensure that the research that is undertaken will: benefit our mob at the national or local level; respect Indigenous knowledge, practices and innovations; and is appropriately undertaken with our full participation and involvement.
“It will also ensure that a cultural lens is provided over the research project and ensure that the best outcomes are achieved for our mob. It will also mean that the questions we want to know – are asked, and answered.”
AIDA Vice President Dr Kali Haywood last night told delegates that the organisation was looking to strengthen the collaboration agreements it has across the medical education continuum, to support Indigenous students in the graduate, pre-vocational and vocational space.
“Our focus is to continue this momentum and work with others to ensure that the Indigenous medical workforce continues to grow, that we continue to move on to graduation, to speciality training and then to fellowship,” she said.
AIDA is also looking to expand its Associate membership category, to tap into the multiple partnerships that it has with numerous stakeholders and organisations across the country, including medical schools, post-graduate medical educational bodies, regional training providers, and Indigenous and non-Indigenous health advocacy bodies.
Recently appointed CEO Kate Thomann said a number of AIDA’s current pool of 104 Associate Members had attended a workshop at the conference on Thursday about growing their numbers and involvement.
“Some Associate Members are involved because they want to support AIDA’s work to improve the number of Indigenous doctors, some want to contribute towards improving Indigenous health outcomes, some want to contribute financially, others want a more intimate relationship with the organisation,” she said.
“These Associate Members want to offer their support, such as through mentoring, or they may be seeking cultural mentoring from our members in order to have an increased cultural understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues,” she said.
• You can track Croakey’s coverage of the conference here.
Meanwhile, reporting from the Twittersphere