THE Department of Health is using a ‘culturally appropriate’ approach in engaging the metropolitan Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander community to help close the health disparity gap between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Australians.
The COAG-funded Moorditj Djena—meaning strong or good feet in the Noongar language—has been operating since February 2010 and focuses on podiatry, diabetes education, and increasing Aboriginal peoples access to the treatment of high-risk foot problems.
Moorditj Djena south metropolitan manager Maureen Unsworth says having Aboriginal staff as a first point of contact by the community is the key to their approach.
“They know the community well, they know the families well and they can address arising issues and respond appropriately,” she says.
Using diabetes and podiatry as a platform for engaging the community the organisation acts as a link for Aboriginal communities to access other services like mental health, domestic violence counseling and general practitioners.
The initiative focuses largely on Aboriginal families who have become disconnected from the mainstream health system due to negative past experiences and require a high level of care.
It is this disengagement that Moorditj Djena is working to reduce and prevent through a ‘culturally appropriate’ approach.
“Everything needs to be a lot more personal, we need to build back the trust that we have lost over the years. Because of the way we actually practiced.
“The only way we can do that is by having Aboriginal health professionals taking a lead role in the team” Mrs Unsworth says.
Drawing on Moorditj Djena’s positive results, Mrs Unsworth says increasing the number of Aboriginal professionals on all levels of the health system is the next step towards closing the health gap.
“While we continue to make decisions about Aboriginal health without Aboriginal people around the table guiding us and making the decisions, we are probably not going to make much of a difference.
“We need to work beside Aboriginal health professionals and recognise their skills, and value their competencies as part of our health service.
“They are the answer to what is actually going to make a difference to the health and well-being of our aboriginal population,” she says.
The organisation initially consulted health and Aboriginal communities in the southern metropolitan area by holding forums on where the community wanted the service and how it was to be delivered.
Moorditj Djena’s initiative covers the entire Perth metropolitan area with teams both in southern and northern areas.
Now with over 500 regular clients, the current success of the initiative is expected to help the organisation gain COAG funding beyond the initial end date of July 2013.