7th Rural and Remote Health Scientific Symposium

Thursday, 21 May 2020
Virtual Symposium logo

‘How humans and the environment interact’

is the theme of the Virtual Pre-Symposium Session.

 View Program.

The 7th Rural and Remote Health Scientific Symposium scheduled to be held in Alice Springs in May 2020 was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Assuming we are able, we plan to hold the face-to-face event in Alice Springs, in May 2021.

We are delighted to bring you this Virtual pre-Symposium session that consists of three keynotes’ video presentations, a Q&A session, nine concurrent presentations and four posters from the original program.

Keynote session

Q&A Session

We received a large number of questions in response to the keynote presentations and to extend the impact of the presentations, we have added a Q&A session facilitated by Professor John Wakerman, professor of  Remote and Rural Health Services Research, Menzies School of Health Research.  The Q&A session answers the follwoing questions:

The opening question from Dr Rosalie Schultz, Centre for Remote Health, Alice Springs:  “I'm pleased to hear that we're healthier than ever, based on life expectancies being longer than ever before. However increased life expectancy is at the cost of the planet that sustains us.  I wonder whether there is work towards a measure of health that incorporates the cost in terms of planetary health to achieve that level of health or life expectancy. Increases in life expectancy have stalled among some groups in USA and UK. Could this provide a key to a measure of health that incorporates planetary health, noting the relationship between social justice and planetary health?”

The next question from Prof Timothy Skinner, from the La Trobe Rural Health School asked the panel to comment on “From what I heard there was nothing in the concept of Planetary Health, that is not contained in the concept of one health.”

And also from Tim Skinner: “Given the overarching message of your presentations, what does this mean I should do differently in my research.  How do I bring this inter-relational, interactional dimension to my projects?”

John commented that in rural and remote health there is often criticism in our research and policies that take a deficit view of what we don’t have, not enough funding, workforce, infrastructure etc. The panel discussed to what extent research should have a strength-based approached as opposed to a deficit-based approach.

Laura answers a question from Deb Robins from the Consumers Health Forum, Rural and Remote Health SIG: “In the genomics health branch of medicine how much microbial DNA testing is performed at present for diagnosis/treatment and will that grow exponentially in the future?”

Another question from Deb Robins put to Tony – “You touched on the vector-borne viruses from encroaching on wild environments, do you think it is possible to both slow down loss of biodiversity and limit such health problems if we do as Ed Wilson suggested and set aside Half Earth as in his book of the same name; and do you think given the failings of representative democracies and rampant capitalism and consumerism, we can preserve biodiversity without fixing our systems of governments, Wales not withstanding?” (Wales Well-being of Future Generations Act)

The panel discusses whether we should be focussing not on consumerism and incessant growth but on sustainability in the future.  (Ref - Kate Raworth – Doughnut Economics; Tim Jackson - Prosperity without Growth).  

We can thrive without continuing to grow GDP. A critical question is about distribution. It’s not just about having more, ever more, it’s about sharing more fairly.  Not just sharing the money more fairly but sharing the earth more fairly.” Tony Capon.

The next group of questions address what is the right thing for individual (rural) health professionals to do, how to address broad structural problems that adversely affect the remote and rural landscape and those who live there. They address the critical question of how power is distributed across society, how change is enacted, how social structures influence us, and conversely, how, we as individuals, influence those structures.

An additional question from Rosalie Schultz: “In both COVID-19 and climate change I feel myself readily criticising others while I myself am not demonstrating best practice. There is no question that as an Australian I contribute more than my share of carbon emissions, even though I am a vegetarian who recycles and travels by bike and foot and have never owned a vehicle. We escaped a COVID-19 outbreak because tourism was down following the bushfires, so not many people entered the country before we instituted the border control, but climate change doesn't have border controls. Is there hope when we who are responsible are part of such complex systems?”

From Dr Ingo Weber, Doctors for the Environment Australia: “It is clear that rural communities and the rural environment are most impacted by our climate crisis, and biodiversity loss.  The main threats are further land degradation, changing climatic conditions and coal and gas mining – particularly gas. It is clear that the climate crisis can only be solved with other countries doing their part.  At the moment Australia is not only obstructing in this process, its behaviour on the international stage is such a bad role model that other nations will not take their climate commitments serious. How can we encourage our politicians to do more and what roles can doctors and rural health professionals play in this regard?  

And finally from Ro McFarlane, University of Canberra: “The Federal Government favours a 'gas-led recovery' out of the economic down-turn resulting from COVID-19, reinvigoration of manufacturing and stimulus packages to a range of industries related to the harms you have highlighted.  After choking on bushfire smoke, running out of drinkable water, facing a pandemic that came from a bat in another country, how do we change the conversation in Australia?

Where in the Australian landscape - literally and in governance - can we turn to for examples or support to adopt healthy ecosystems as the settings for good health, and support for a vision for a sustainable and equitable future - including for rural and remote Australians? If there is no leadership, how do we pursue such a vision so that our individual efforts, on farms, and in communities, is greater than the sum of its parts?”

The panel addresses these questions and also discusses what individuals can do about climate change in this complex system from tiny microbes to the environment and the planet.

As health professionals in Australia, whether in rural, remote or metro, we can be a voice and we can help make clear that these environmental changes are health issues.  Climate change is not an abstract concept, it is not a future issue, people are already dying from a change in climate. ... The health understanding can help all of us understand that these are urgent issues and they can also provide positive stories about change – if we change we will see additional health benefits….”  Tony Capon

John closes the session by asking the panel whether it is time for health professionals to step up and show leadership on this issue:

Rural health has a substantial contribution to make where the links between our water catchments, food bowls, the food we produce and where we derive our nutrition.  It is a health issue and there is a role for rural health practitioners to become involved.”  Pierre Horwitz

The microbiome research being done around the world can provide a mechanistic explanation and understanding why pollution ends up resulting with poor health outcomes.  We can use the microbiome as a tool to prove these things do have an impact on health.” Laura Weyrich

This extends to education systems - it is a health agenda, an environmental agenda, but also the way we learn about our interrelationships.  There is a role for education - agricultural education, health education.  We need to be holistic.”  Pierre Horwitz 

Concurrent presenters

Several presenters whose work was listed in one of the concurrent sessions have completed their presentations and we are delighted to include them here.

  • Nursing and Allied Health Graduate Outcome Tracking (NAHGOT) study: preliminary findings – Alison Beauchamp
  • Persistent pain management—turning heartsink into hope – Steve Gilbert
  • Reaching remote indigenous communities through virtual care: research needed for wider adoption – James Purnell
  • Indigenous cultural competency: exploring the barriers for health and social care academics – Caroline Robinson
  • QuoCCA lessons: supporting health professionals through education to deliver paediatric palliative care – Penelope Slater, Leigh Donovan
  • What supports Indigenous students to graduate in health science? A systematic review - Emma Taylor
  • Flinders University alumni rural outcomes: a data linkage study - Leesa Walker

Rogano presenters

The following two presentations were scheduled to be Rogano presentations where the presenters sought feedback on their research. Please assist them by providing comments via the links below.

  • Promoting early literacy: a play-based pre-writing skills program – Ornissa Naidoo

Email Ornissa  / Complete survey 

  • Professional supervisor training needs for the rural and remote psychology workforce - Sharon Varela

Email Sharon

Poster presenters

  • Augmented reality-based telementoring—an innovative approach for scenario-based training: a protocol  Dung Trung Bui
  • A WHO sponsored checklist: implementing pathways to build rural workforce capacity – Belinda O’Sullivan
  • Making a difference: a pop-up model for paediatric palliative care - Penelope Slater
  • Understanding the barriers to treating childhood obesity in Australian general practice – Rory van der Linden

We hope you enjoy this virtual session and find it stimulating and useful.  If you have any questions for the presenters or the organisers send an email to conference@ruralhealth.org.au