How COVID-19 is hitting the Indigenous community harder

Luke Fry and Jessica Ah-See outside Aldi Waterloo. (Photo: Christa Nicola)

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Confusing information in the media and shortages of face masks and food are contributing to rising stress levels and anxiety in Sydney’s Indigenous community, according to the Aboriginal Medical Service.

It said many Aboriginal people do not have the financial means to protect themselves in times of crisis and have a lower immunity and a higher rate of underlying medical conditions.

Pneumonia is the most common type of respiratory disease for Indigenous Australians, which puts them at a greater risk if they contract COVID-19.

An AMS spokesperson told Hatch: “Aboriginal people are fighting poor lung conditions and type 2 diabetes without much support.

“The younger generation live with many of their elders and are concerned they are spreading the virus to their vulnerable loved ones.”

People in the community are unsure of what to do or where to go and are alarmed by what they are hearing in the media.

People awaiting treatment at the Aboriginal Medical Centre in Redfern. Source: Christa Nicola
People awaiting treatment at the Aboriginal Medical Centre, Redfern. (Photo: Christa Nicola)

“Some are watching international news and getting nervous, like why isn’t Australia doing everything they are doing overseas? Are we safe? And I tell them, peaches and apples (sic) …we’ve only had a few deaths here.”

The AMS is low on face masks and can only hand them out if someone is symptomatic.

“We take someone’s body temperature before they enter the clinic and if they have symptoms we give them a mask, if they are worried but symptom-free we let them walk in to get their blood test done,” he said.

“We don’t have enough masks to give them to everyone.”

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Jessica Ah-See, a 25-year-old Indigenous woman, complained she felt rejected when she went to the AMS.

“I went down to AMS and they had this table thing at the front to check everyone to see if people are infected with the coronavirus, and then they wouldn’t even let me go in there,” she told Hatch.

“So I just walked straight in to get my blood and they got the security onto me and everything.

“Then I said if you are so concerned about me infecting everyone with the coronavirus then give me one of those masks and they said ‘ah, no you have to be full-on sick to have a mask’.”

Coles supermarket Surry Hills. Photo: Christa Nicola
Coles supermarket at Surry Hills. (Photo: Christa Nicola)

The last couple of weeks of panic buying by Australians has left Ms Ah-See without her usual diabetic sweets.

“I need sugar free stuff and there is just none of them, they are all out. Like where do I get that from? My next-door neighbour, he’s a type 2 diabetic and he needs special foods for his levels as well,” she added.

“There’s no meat and no toilet paper, it just seems so stupid.”

The Australian government has advised people to avoid travelling to remote indigenous areas to stop the spread of the coronavirus in communities that suffer low rates of healthcare and income.

Peter Pinnington a former Lecturer of Indigenous Health at Australian National University raised concerns for the wellbeing of Aboriginal people.

“Many Aboriginal people have multiple comorbidities which compromise our health and particularly in rural and remote communities, we die 15-17 years earlier than the general Australian population,” he said.

“In the cities, we have access to medical services. The Redfern Medical Service was established in 1971 because we were not being treated properly in States and Territories health sectors.

“Redfern has done a great service since.”