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NITV: Urgent action needed to protect First Nations people with disability from COVID-19

By March 23, 2020No Comments

The First Peoples Disability Network of Australia calls for more government support to protect vulnerable members of First Nations communities in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.


Emily Nicol


23 MAR 2020 – 1:57 PM

The First Peoples Disability Network has drawn attention to the “impossible” challenges of self-isolation and social distancing faced by people with disability, in a joint statement released alongside seven other peak disability organisations late last week.

The statement has called for three major areas of urgent actions from the Government which includes:

  • Access to a specific outreach program, be it phone-based or otherwise
  • Critical information provided in language and to also be explained in an accessible way
  • Access to disability equipment and supplies, particularly for regional and remote communities.

The organisation is calling on government at all levels, agencies such as the NDIS, and the private sector to, “work with us to make sure that people with disability aren’t left behind in this current crisis.”

Damian Griffis, a Worimi man and the CEO of First Peoples Disability Network, told ABC radio on Thursday that there was not enough being done at the moment and urgent assistance was required.

“There’s two elements to the Coronavirus response. There is obviously our own personal responsibility that we have to take by washing hands and practising social distancing, but also this is about reaching out to our fellow Australians, the most vulnerable of all Australians we would say,” he said.

“It’s difficult to think of more disadvantaged Australians than Aboriginal people with disability.”

Griffis said that 45 percent of all Aboriginal people have some form of disability or long term health condition, making this a major issue and that it’s now a bipartisan position to effectively close remote communities who don’t have adequate intensive care services.

“If coronavirus was to get into remote communities it would have a devastating impact,” said Griffis.

“Aboriginal people can sometimes live in overcrowded housing and they live in situations where some communities can’t even access a reliable water supply or electricity supply, so it’s vital that those communities and only those people who is essential to supporting those communities, be in those communities.”

In keeping with the social distancing policies, the FPDN has closed its offices and face-to-face contact meetings, however its services continue to be available online and it is also pushing out vital health notices and updates to community through their social media channels.

Pat Turner, the CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) which is co-chairing a national Indigenous advisory committee that is tasked with implementing an emergency response plan to COVID-19 in Aboriginal communities, has also stated the importance of immediate government action.

“I can’t be any blunter: If COVID-19 gets into our communities we are gone,” said Turner in a radio interview last week.