As I wrote the last Partyline editorial in mid-March, it was obvious that COVID-19 was going to force us to radically change the way we do things but perhaps it wasn’t quite clear how we would do ‘life’ differently. Three months on, there are still unanswered questions about what life will be like as we emerge from COVID-19 and what longer-term impacts the pandemic will have on all of us. The pandemic has been devastating for people who have lost loved ones or suffered economically, but it has also brought about remarkable innovation, opportunity and connectedness throughout the country, particularly in rural Australia. It is those positive aspects of the otherwise devastating pandemic that we highlight in this special issue of Partyline.
Some of these stories include: the story of Georgina Price, a sixth-year medical student from James Cook University who quickly found herself as part of the public health response during a placement in Townsville; how rural community pharmacists have gone above and beyond during both bushfires and the pandemic; and how the Starlight Children’s Foundation adapted their outreach programs for remote communities to keep their “rocket ships” arriving for local kids even when travel was restricted. And, of course, there are the broader policy changes that are likely to remain after the pandemic has passed, such as the expansion of telehealth. As Kate Cross from the WA Primary Health Alliance says:
“They say every cloud has a silver lining, and COVID-19 certainly does. We are seeing rapid change, collaboration and innovation in the healthcare space as a result of the pandemic, providing an opportunity to explore flexibility in the way healthcare is delivered.”
There will be many challenges going forward, such as how to ensure that telehealth is here to stay but not in a way that takes jobs away from rural areas. There are also lessons to be learned, such as the need for strong and effective communication from government if there is a future pandemic. Many health professionals and consumers reported that messaging during COVID-19 was often confusing or ineffective, particularly with there being different policies in different states and territories. This is something we can do better in the future.
Another silver lining of the pandemic has been the opportunity for people to become better connected with their community and the environment in which they live. Pam Harvey from La Trobe University provides a good example, as she writes about her new daily life working from home, saying:
“I think of my friends in the city and I despair for them cooped up in their houses. Here, the autumn smells delicious. I’ve always known where I’d rather be.”
This has also led to a number of people expressing themselves through art and literature, and we’re delighted to feature three poems in this Partyline, from Anil Kumar, Tessa Li Chyin Lim and former Alliance Executive Director Gordon Gregory (who also writes about how regional development can help us rebuild the economy after COVID-19).
The Alliance remains open for business and as we slowly return to the office, we have a number of events planned including a webinar on food security on 29 June, the 7th Rural and Remote Health Scientific Symposium in Alice Springs in May 2021, and the 16th National Rural Health Conference in Perth in March 2022. As we approach the end of the financial year, remember you can help us out by making a donation – the Alliance is an ATO-registered, tax-deductible health promotion charity.
Thank you to everyone who contributed and we hope that this issue of Partyline helps highlight some of the positive stories from these trying times.