Empowering First Nations communities to fight diabetes

  • (L to R) IWC employees Kirst Hart, Senior Lead Indigenous Health Practitioner, and Lisa McGrady, Indigenous Health Practitioner
    (L to R) IWC employees Kirst Hart, Senior Lead Indigenous Health Practitioner, and Lisa McGrady, Indigenous Health Practitioner
  • St John Eye Van visiting Bundaberg's IWC
    St John Eye Van visiting Bundaberg's IWC

For generations, diabetes has insidiously woven its way into the lives of our First Nations communities, posing challenges to everyday living. Today, as healthcare initiatives shift their focus towards inclusive and equitable care, Bundaberg’s Indigenous Wellbeing Centre (IWC) shines the spotlight on supporting and empowering our First Nations communities in their battle against diabetes. IWC’s collaborative efforts address challenges through a holistic approach centred around cultural responsiveness and respect.

Diabetes among First Nations communities is not a recent phenomenon. Over time, changing lifestyles and dietary patterns have contributed to the gradual increase in diabetes cases within our communities. Alongside these challenges, many First Nations peoples reside in rural and remote areas, which lessens the support available.

Limited access to healthcare services, resources and facilities can have a profound impact on early diagnosis and proper management of a diabetic condition. Furthermore, non-culturally responsive referral pathways can exacerbate things, as the First Nations patient journey can be met with misunderstanding, adherence and suboptimal care.

To bridge the healthcare gap for First Nations peoples, IWC believes the key lies in uniting support services to encompass cultural heritage. At its core, a holistic approach requires cultural training be undertaken by all employees in order to deliver culturally responsive care. It’s essential to grasp the cultural nuances and significance of holistic wellbeing, offering healthcare solutions that embrace both ancestral wisdom and modern medical practices.

Empowering First Nations communities in the fight against diabetes centres around culturally responsive prevention efforts. Emphasising education as a powerful tool, Elders and community leaders play a crucial role in passing down knowledge to younger generations. This includes promoting a balanced diet and encouraging physical activity that aligns with the values of their culture.

IWC Senior Lead Indigenous Health Practitioner, Kirsty Hart, echoes this sentiment: ‘We hold the belief that with culturally appropriate education, unwavering support and accessible services, diabetes can be effectively managed as a chronic disease. Our commitment is rooted in the belief that First Nations peoples deserve to lead long, vibrant and healthy lives.’

John Tanner*, a member of our First Nations community, underwent an ATSI health check, which kickstarted his journey towards better health. During this process, he received a health screening that included blood tests and revealed a new diabetes diagnosis. This discovery raised concerns in John, as he had witnessed the impact of diabetes on some of his family members.

Understanding the significance of culturally responsive care, John decided to connect with one of our dedicated Aboriginal health workers. Through this consultation, he gained a more comprehensive understanding of his diagnosis and discovered the support available to him. His journey continued as his general practitioner initiated a new medication regimen tailored to his needs.

With the assistance of funded referrals from his health check, John was connected with IWC’s Pivot 21 diabetes educator. This health professional played a pivotal role in educating John about his condition and empowering him to manage it effectively. Through subsequent appointments, he was referred to a dietitian and exercise physiologist, both working collaboratively to optimise lifestyle factors that could enhance his wellbeing.

As part of the ongoing commitment to monitoring his health, John underwent routine yearly check-ups to detect any potential complications arising from diabetes. During one of these appointments, he had the opportunity to be examined by our visiting St John's dedicated First Nations eye van, ensuring his eye health was maintained. Additionally, he received a referral to a local podiatrist for foot checks, recognising the importance of preventive care for diabetes-related issues.

John’s dedication to his health journey was evident in his regular three-month reviews with his doctor. These appointments not only allowed him to track his progress but also showcased tangible improvements in his blood sugar levels as a result of the interventions he had embraced.

Our patient’s journey exemplifies the holistic and culturally sensitive approach we offer at Bundaberg's IWC. By combining medical expertise, educational resources and supportive interventions, we are committed to empowering First Nations individuals like John to manage their diabetes and enhance their overall wellbeing.

*Name changed for patient confidentiality

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