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Continuing to provide the best care for Aboriginal Australian Patients

Over the last few months, the Eye and Ear Mirring Ba Wirring Aboriginal Health Unit along with clinical staff have worked tirelessly to continue providing services to patients in both our Ophthalmology and Healthy Ears outreach clinics during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mirring Ba Wirring literally means “eyes and ears” in at least 3 of the 5 languages of the Kulin Nations.

Our commitment to Closing the Health Gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians has led to the establishment of two clinics. The first, the Healthy Ears clinic, has been successfully operating in partnership with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) on a monthly basis for the past six years. Bookings are co-ordinated by Aboriginal Health Worker Katie Edney at VAHS, who makes bookings for people under 21 years of age who require ear, nose and throat (ENT) assessments.  The popularity of the clinic has grown since it started in 2014 and  , and offers up to 16 ENT consultations and 12 audiology assessments every month.  Both Katie and ENT Surgeon, Professor Stephen O’Leary  review waiting lists and screen children to ensure those who require urgent treatment are seen without delays. The clinic is staffed by both members of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons who provide clinical care  as well as Eye and Earnurses and audiologists.

The second clinic operated is the Ophthalmology clinic which started in November 2018. This clinic was the first to operate within a Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and leads the way in providing assessments and treatment. This importantly includes the provision of injecting and laser therapies in a culturally safe environment. The clinic runs fortnightly at VAHS in Fitzroy, with ophthalmologist Dr Rosie Dawkins treating adults and Dr Susan Carden  treating children. Eye and Ear Aboriginal Health Liaison Officer, Natalie Tieri works closely with Diabetes Educator, Mandy Williamson to coordinate appointments.

The pandemic poses some unique challenges for Aborinal and Torres Strait Islander patients. Many Elders who typically attend morning sessions have chronic health diseases and are also classified as more at risk. This was identified as a barrier to some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients attending appointments.  . To mitigate some of the concerns around attending clinics, staff have adapted their way of working.  Drs Dawkins and Carden have continued with clinical operations during the pandemic to ensure Aboriginal patients receive urgent treatment. Bookings are kept to a minimum which allows for quicker access and reduced waiting times for patients. The smaller clinic numbers have also allowed VAHS to maintain appropriate physical distancing. The dedication of everyone involved in providing continuity of service during these demanding times is to be commended.