LOCAL FRONT LINES: Kerry Stewart, Samuel Robinson, and Morgan Charles at Carbal Medical Services in Warwick.
LOCAL FRONT LINES: Kerry Stewart, Samuel Robinson, and Morgan Charles at Carbal Medical Services in Warwick.

Indigenous communities fight for healthcare access

Indigenous Australians have been identified as one of the demographics most at-risk during the coronavirus pandemic - however, medical experts within the Southern Downs argue danger lies not only in the virus, but the community's knee-jerk reaction to it.

Indigenous communities - especially in rural and remote areas - are already more susceptible to chronic disease, and often lack access to the first-rate healthcare enjoyed in metropolitan areas, resulting in an average life expectancy eight or nine years lower than other Australian populations.

Carbal Medical Centres are located across the Darling and Southern Downs regions and are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Care Organisations, meaning they are designed in a way that best supports local Indigenous communities.

According to Carbal CEO Brian Hewitt, the systemic disadvantage often faced by Indigenous populations has made them innately more resilient to a crisis like the coronavirus outbreak.

"In general, the Aboriginal community lives with a higher mortality risk and worse outcomes across pretty much every health area, so we haven't had much panic at all," Mr Hewitt said.

"Our community has been impacted, but because they live with disadvantage on a daily basis, they are a very resilient community. The lower life expectancy and the risk of chronic disease from an earlier age - they're the figures and statistics that Indigenous Australians live with every day, it's not something new caused or highlighted by the coronavirus."

Mr Hewitt added that Carbal Medical Centres have had no problems getting access to coronavirus testing kits, meaning they have been successful in keeping the virus out of the local community. However, their facilities across the Southern Downs are battling serious supply shortages caused by panic-buying.

"When we're at the frontline and trying to make sure that people who need healthcare are going to get it, we don't need to be fighting against healthy people who are hoarding unnecessarily," he said.

"We haven't had any hand sanitiser deliveries for over a month, and we're struggling to get a hold of face masks and other (personal protective equipment) because people have bought them out for no good reason."

"Much of our local Indigenous community could already be struggling with mental health as a member of a higher-risk group during a pandemic, and being unable to buy their essential supplies at the shops is only adding to this stress and anxiety."

Mr Hewitt said the current rate of coronavirus infections through the local Indigenous community and the wider Southern Downs made him hopeful the region would escape in better shape than metropolitan areas, but it would be reliant on Carbal centres having uninterrupted access to basic supplies and utilities.

"People using video calls unnecessarily and streaming online content continually is also putting enormous strain and pressure on phone lines in the region. In the last two weeks, we've had more phone line dropouts or interruptions than ever before," he said.

"It's a changing beast every day, and at the moment the numbers in Australia are encouraging and promising, but as we've seen overseas it can change overnight. We might all be in it together, but at the moment we're not all helping each other, that's for sure."