New community partnerships forge the way for research into Aboriginal healthy ageing

A new era of community-led health research is set to begin this year, with two more Aboriginal Medical Services (AMSs) teaming up with the Sax Institute for ground-breaking research into healthy Aboriginal ageing.

The Brewarrina and Walgett AMSs join three other AMSs (Tharawal, RivMed and Orange) in leading the Cancer and Healthy Ageing in Aboriginal NSW Older Generations Study (CHANGES) – a new exploration of local views on healthy ageing and improving cancer outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Working closely with communities, CHANGES researchers will consult directly with older Aboriginal people who have had cancer, or who are currently undergoing treatment, as well as their family members and health professionals to get a better understanding of how the cancer care system is working for communities.

Researchers will also be talking to frontline workers at participating AMSs to map existing services for Aboriginal patients and identify potential areas of improvement for cancer prevention and treatment.

CHANGES is based on a community-led research model pioneered by the Sax Institute’s Study of Environment on Aboriginal Resilience and Child Health (SEARCH) – Australia’s largest long-term study of the health and wellbeing of urban Aboriginal children.

Dr Martin McNamara, Deputy CEO at the Sax Institute, says that SEARCH has proved just how successful community-led research can be, and CHANGES will build on this. “This is a really important new phase for the Sax Institute’s partnership with Indigenous communities,” he said. “Thanks to these strong new relationships with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, we have the opportunity to work together to improve the services and outcomes for Aboriginal people with cancer.”

Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted across NSW, participating Aboriginal health services will begin collecting data for the study. SEARCH Knowledge Broker, Peter Fernando, says that Aboriginal people will be involved in all stages of the research.

“We will be having sensitive and meaningful conversations with older Aboriginal community members about their cancer experience, so these community health services are instrumental in guiding culturally-sensitive interviews,” he said. “With strong Aboriginal leadership, we hope this research will lead to tangible improvements in the way health and cancer services are delivered to older Aboriginal people.”