A NSW Health funded research project led by the Ngarruwan Ngadju Health and Wellbeing Research Centre at UOW will address a gap in knowledge of how Aboriginal community controlled organisations are responding to the complex health and social challenges confronting Aboriginal communities in our region throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project builds on current research from a 2019 ARC Indigenous Discovery project that investigates the complex nature of relationships between government and Aboriginal organisations in regional NSW. Using a community based participatory research (or CBPR) approach, the team will collaborate with existing community partners and develop new networks in order to investigate how an Aboriginal place-based model can address the unique needs of Aboriginal communities in south eastern NSW during the age of COVID.

This project is led by Professor Kathleen Clapham, Director of Ngarrruwan Ngadju, in collaboration with a cross disciplinary chief investigator team from University of Wollongong, four other universities and several Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations in south eastern NSW.

“The research is very much a collaborative approach to developing a public health response to the pandemic which is culturally safe,” explains Prof. Clapham.

The key question for the research is - what should a place-based COVID-19 response for NSW Aboriginal communities look like and what communication practices are needed for effective service provision?

 “The Australian Indigenous population is extremely diverse. Our knowledge of pandemics in relation to Indigenous populations to date has tended to focus on the barriers to disease control in remote areas and discrete communities. This project takes a different approach. The research lens is on the regional and urbanised areas of south eastern NSW. This research project will also focus on the physical, psycho-social and emotional impacts of COVID (immediate and long term) in these areas We are particularly interested in understanding more about the Aboriginal organisations who have been at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic response, delivering health, educational and social services to vulnerable communities.”.

 “Using yarning and roundtable discussion methods (either face-face or virtually) we will provide a culturally safe environment for in-depth exploration of Aboriginal views and beliefs about the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Phase one of the project is currently underway and will investigate social and cultural disruption and trauma, health and safety education and services, information gaps and inconsistencies of messages within communities, and a social network analysis. PhD researcher, Fiona Sheppeard is currently preparing a survey to gauge the effects of the COVID-19 response on the health and wellbeing of frontline health workers.

Using the data collected from phase one, a framework will be created for the preparedness, delivery and recovery of Aboriginal communities in relation to crisis, which could be utilised in other communities as required.

“What we want to see are improvements for Aboriginal communities with things like culturally appropriate messaging, enabling a better relationship with funding bodies, and improved and integrated care for people with chronic health conditions,” said Prof. Clapham.

The aim of the 2-year research project is an overarching collaborative protocol for Aboriginal communities responding to crises. Research outcomes will include a logic model, documented case studies, guidelines for responding to long term impacts of COVID, and recommendations for a culturally safe model of service provision for Aboriginal communities.

Importantly, there will also be broad dissemination of the team’s findings via publications, advocacy, policy and practice change.

The Ngarruwan Ngadju First Peoples Health and Wellbeing Research Centre was established within the Australia Health Services Research Institute (AHSRI) in 2019. It builds on the longstanding research collaborations with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations across the Illawarra, Shoalhaven and the Far South Coast. Researchers at Ngarruwan Ngadju have worked with a number of these organisations over many years and have documented and evaluated health services, men’s and women’s wellbeing programs, and initiatives that address the health, education safety of children and young people.

Kathie Clapham Fiona S WIDE
(From left): PhD Student Fiona Sheppeard, Professor Kathie Clapham and Dr Marlene Longbottom.

The complete research team:

University of Wollongong – Professor Clapham, Professor Paul De Souza, Professor Helen Hasan, Dr Marlene Longbottom, Associate Professor Peter Kelly, Ms Joanna Mason, Ms Fiona Sheppeard, Ms Lynda-June Coe, Ms Bronte Haynes.
University of Sydney – Associate Professor Peter Malouf and Professor Valerie Harwood,
University of Western Australia – Professor Dawn Bessarab,
University of Queensland – Professor Bronwyn Fredericks,
University of Newcastle – Associate Professor Kate Senior 

Collaborating organisations:

Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service
Illawarra Koori Men’s Support Group
Coomaditchie United Aboriginal Corporation
South Coast Medical Aboriginal Corporation
Waminda South Coast Women’s Health & Welfare Aboriginal Corporation
Katungul Aboriginal Corporation Regional Health and Community Services