Check out our special Global Voices coverage of the global impact of COVID-19.
Helen Zahos, emergency nurse and humanitarian volunteer, has been working with COVID-19 patients in an intensive care unit in Australia. Zahos grew up on the remote Groote Eylandt Island in the Northern Territory, which has a large indigenous population. In a recent interview, Zahos warned Australians that “we could see the disappearance of entire indigenous communities if COVID-19 spreads to these remote areas …”.
Australia's population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (as the country's indigenous population is collectively called) exceeds 800,000, approximately 3.3% of the total population. More than 150,000 live in remote communities and homes, and face serious health problems with significant gaps compared to non-indigenous people. Life expectancy is approximately eight years less than for non-indigenous people, and infant mortality is higher.
The chronic conditions of indigenous Australians include respiratory diseases, mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease. Trachoma and rheumatic heart disease have also spread.
There has been considerable preparation for COVID-19 by indigenous communities, organizations and the media in Australia, especially those in remote areas. In northern Australia, there has been a lot of activity to disseminate information and protect indigenous communities, and there have been calls for the ’Elderly Protected Areas” to protect the elderly and other vulnerable members of the community.
On April 18, the national government announced that it would invest 3.3 million Australian dollars (2 million US dollars) to “establish a rapid Remote Point or Coronavirus Testing Program (COVID-19) for remote and rural Aboriginal and of Torres Strait Islanders ”.
The Northern Territory (NT) has approximately 76 remote indigenous communities and 500 households (remote areas with small populations living on traditional lands). The Northern Territory Government has canceled all travel to and from indigenous communities, however, it has also restricted travel to centers such as Alice Springs for medical care and purchasing essential items.
The Northern Earth Council has produced messages in 19 languages, including this short video in pitjanjatjara:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKipV4A0ugE (/ embed)
The Northern Territory Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance (AMSANT) uses its Facebook page to promote health practices:
Kimberley, Western Australia
Indigenous peoples comprise 40% of the population of over 40,000 inhabitants in the Kimberley region in northern Western Australia. Strict restrictions have been imposed in the region, including travel bans between local government areas. This follows several cases of COVID-19 in the region, including five workers in the Health sector.
The Kimberley Territory Council website also has a lot of useful information, and Kimberley Aboriginal Health Services provides resources, like this Kimberley Creole video:
Shirley Purdee, renowned Kimberley artist, has gone to 'resist the coronavirus' with her people:
‘I am frightened ': Indigenous people return to homelands to wait out coronavirus https://t.co/SCT8Ta1k8T
– ayRay Wilton 💧💦 (@ raywilton4) April 14, 2020
Renowned artist Shirley Purdie, 72, isolates herself with her family at the remote Kimberley Cattle Station, where she was born.
“I am terrified”, indigenous peoples return to their lands to wait for the coronavirus.
ARDS Yolngu Radio in Land of Arnhem, in the east of the country, has been broadcasting messages in various languages:
Our work keeping Yolngu up to date with critical COVID-19 news is getting a lot of coverage. Here's an ABC article on our work: https://t.co/MNEy2zjqMb
We recognize the ongoing support of the Northern Territory and Australian Governments in helping us deliver these services.
– ARDS Aboriginal Corporation (@ARDS_AC) April 3, 2020
Baker Boy Helps Fight Coronavirus Confusion in Northern Territories Communities.
Our work of keeping Yolngu up-to-date with critical news from COVID-19 is well covered. This is an ABC article about our work:
https: // www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-03 / indigenous-community-coronavirus-information / 12115080 …
We acknowledge the ongoing support to the Northern Territory and Australian Governments to help distribute these services.
All non-essential permits necessary to enter Aboriginal land on Arnhem land are currently suspended.
Further south, the radio of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) has also been active. ‘Yuendumu is fine… how the coronavirus is affecting the remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory’ is an audio interview in the local Walpiri language, with Louanna Williams. Explain how the community copes with the threat and includes a summary in English at the end.
This Paw Media animation is also available on walpiri:
Local radio stations are posting a lot of information on their websites. National Indigenous TV (NITV) is part of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). Its free channel, which reaches 95% of Australians, has widely reported on the emergency. In one of their reports they highlighted the difficulties of Aborigines who have a hard time in urban centers like Perth, Western Australia:
Aboriginal rough-sleepers issued move-on notices and given 10-minutes to pack belongings and leave, but WA police say they are doing all they can and acting with compassion to support homeless people in Perth.
Aboriginal people sleeping on the street issued notices to leave and were given 10 minutes to pack up and leave, but the Western Australian Police say they do their best and act compassionately to support homeless people in Perth.
There was more positive news in Adelaide, South Australia:
Indigenous people sleeping rough across metropolitan Adelaide have been put up in motels under an initiative by the South Australian Housing Authority to help them stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
Indigenous people who sleep on the street in the Adelaide metropolitan area are in motels because of an initiative by the South Australian Housing Authority to help them stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
Little J and Big Cuz, popular indigenous animated television series, joined in with a short message:
– @NITV (@NITV) April 3, 2020
Little J has an important message for all jarjums about hand washing.
COVID-19 has not yet spread in indigenous communities. Hopefully this national quarantine and social distancing will keep them safe.