Australian Unity is on the frontline of the response to the current outbreak of COVID-19 among Indigenous communities in far western NSW.

Community members in Wilcannia, where one in seven people have COVID, are being offered free transport to pop-up testing and vaccination clinics, executive General Manager of Indigenous Services Ken Markwell says.

Australian Unity has also provided 5,000 face masks, access to its new office facilities for local organisations and is helping with the provision of meals.

Mr Markwell, a Mununjhali man, says COVID-19 is making the provision of safe and culturally appropriate care challenging, particularly in remote communities.

Ken Markwell

However, Australian Unity has quickly responded to the emerging crisis in the region to ensure elders and employees are safe and informed and to help with the delivery of vaccinations and culturally appropriate care.

“We are all going through this together and I know everyone is doing the best they can in difficult circumstances,” Mr Markwell said.

“Helping each other, working together, and doing whatever we can to support our elders and our vulnerable mob must be our priority.”

Community involvement crucial

Mr Markwell says it’s important for the community to be involved in COVID services and programs as services for Indigenous people work best when the community has a say in their development and implementation.

There are currently 100 cases of COVID-19 in the far-western NSW town of Wilcannia.

“We also know how important connection is to our mob, which is why we reach out regularly to check-in with our customers and employees on their wellbeing,” he said.

A spokesman for the Far West Local Health District told Community Care Review that there are currently 100 cases of COVID-19 among Wilcannia’s community of 750, of which more than 60 per cent are Indigenous.

Vaccination remains a priority for local health authorities. Wilcannia has passed the 30 per cent full vaccination rate threshold and between 50-59 per cent have had their first jab.

Australian Unity’s Indigenous Services and Aboriginal Home Care business is one of the largest employers of Aboriginal people in NSW, with 300 staff, most of whom identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

This story first ran on Community Care Review.

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