The failure of governments to ensure appropriate services for people with kidney disease in Central Australia was recently highlighted at this blog by the CEO of Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, Donna Ah Chee.
The post was based upon her speech to the recent launch of the Kidney Action Network, in which she described how many patients are forced to move to Adelaide and Perth, far from families and communities, because of the lack of services in Alice Springs.
Meanwhile, a powerful insight into the disruption that this causes to individuals, families and communities is given in the article below, by John Paterson, CEO of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, or AMSANT.
He says AMSANT is “absolutely disgusted” by the refusal of the NT, WA and SA Governments to implement key recommendations of the Central Australian Renal Planning Study.
The article is a lightly edited version of his speech to the Network’s launch.
“Families get torn apart”
John Paterson writes:
Kidney disease is increasingly affecting Australians – from Darwin to Hobart, from Perth to Sydney.
But, it is something that affects Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory – and in the traditional lands that lie just beyond our borders – at greater rates than anywhere else in the nation. In some areas, at greater rates than anywhere internationally.
And its impact is felt most acutely in our remote communities, where the social and cultural structures and everyday wellbeing of our communities depends on the presence of our old people – we need them to be present as long as possible.
So, when our old people are forced to move hundreds or thousands of kilometres away from kin and country, families get torn apart.
Families spend most of their time travelling out of their home communities to visit their loved ones in faraway places, and attending court cases and prison visit for their members who get caught up in problems when they are away in these faraway places.
Old people are the social and cultural glue which holds communities together – but many other people have died when they are young or middle aged.
The remaining old people are truly precious to everyone.
The recommendations of the 2010 Central Australian Renal Planning Study were supposed to be implemented so they could deal with these problems, but they have been ignored.
AMSANT is absolutely disgusted by the refusal of the state and Territory governments to engage with the key recommendations of the Central Australian Renal Planning Study.
The Commonwealth has shown some inclination to try and sort these problems out, but has been met with complete disinterest from the SA, WA and NT governments. These governments refuse to acknowledge the gravity and importance of the situation.
To put it bluntly, these governments are behaving irresponsibly, with little regard for the people they are elected to represent.
The state and Territory governments must begin to work sincerely with the Commonwealth and the community sector to engage in proper planning and provide the extra services and infrastructure that are essential for a fair deal for remote area kidney patients.
The SA and WA state governments must also begin to provide accommodation in Alice Springs for their clients who need to be here for health reasons.
The NT government must provide more accommodation for NT patients who have to live in its regional centres, including Tennant Creek, Nhulunbuy and Katherine, to receive dialysis services and while they are waiting for kidney transplants.
The launch of the Kidney Action Network is about delivering a message about the preciousness of life. That is why the Network has been established: to put life at the front and centre of health policy here in the Northern Territory.
It is important to remember, that the partners who have joined in the Kidney Action Network see their work as part of a broader, comprehensive approach to health. We are not a “one disease at a time” movement; we recognise the full complexities of the social determinants of health.
Lives well lived, with families and friends, means having access to good primary health care, for all our people.
• John Paterson, CEO, Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory
(Photo credit: Simon Hewson).