An old Aboriginal man from a remote community rests motionless in bed 7A and stares at the wall, disengaged from the comings and goings in the ward, the television programs and the conversations in the beds around him.
He’s bored, but because English is his third language, he doesn’t understand a lot of the fast talking on the TV. He’s lonely and misses his family, who are only allowed for an hour or two during visiting times. He’s sick, and trying to hide the anxiety about whether the translator they got in to help him talk to the doctor was getting the right words across. He’s also hungry, because although the hospital provides good food, the menus are indecipherable because he can’t read English.
He could be an Elder who has been holding his community together for years, or simply a man who has lived a good life and wants to keep doing so. But his capacity to get back to full health is compromised by a narrow focus on the selection and delivery of medical care, without addressing his overall needs.
It's with the needs of individuals and their communities foremost that Flinders University’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health has developed a lofty ambition, with a grounded premise: to deliver measurable improvements in the current and future health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through two-way knowledge transfer, research translation and holistic health leadership.
One of the daily challenges for the Centre’s Acting Director, Dr Maree Meredith, is to find a new way of mutual communication, one that truly engages the many different communities she’s striving to support and empower, and which delivers tangible outcomes – not just nice words.
Dr Meredith and her colleagues are striving to introduce change. Their research shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities experience health and talk about it very differently to mainstream health workers. She contends that the mainstream community needs to listen. “We need to shape the health conversation in the community’s terms. It shifts power to the people who need to benefit from our medical research. If not, we won’t make progress.
“We’re advocating for a social model of health. For Indigenous Australians, you cannot have an effective conversation about health unless it is also about language, culture, country and family. These four aspects cannot be separated from what it means to be healthy. It must be a holistic conversation.”