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Culturally appropriate allied healthcare crucial to closing the Indigenous health gap

Culturally appropriate allied healthcare crucial t
Photo: Culturally appropriate allied healthcare crucial to closing the Indigenous healt....
There’s a long way to go for the broader population to understand Indigenous Australians’ strong connection to country, and why culturally appropriate health services are crucial for addressing the myriad health and social issues that disproportionately affect Aboriginal people.

“This lack of understanding and respect is actually going to have a longer term, negative social and economic impact,” says Robby Chibawe, CEO of the Puntukurnu Aboriginal Medical Services (PAMS).

“We are constantly researching and looking at contributing factors (for the health gap), but some obvious ones can be related back to lifestyle.

“Remote communities don’t typically have access to things like ample housing, good drinking water, healthcare and options for employment.

“The cost of living can be expensive which tends to translate to purchasing less healthy food and beverage options too.
“Living arrangements are often overcrowded which also contributes to the spread of disease and poor lifestyle.”

As a result, many Aboriginal people don’t have access to quality, and culturally appropriate, allied health services.

PAMS is trying to change that, one community at a time.

The organisation is an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service located in the East Pilbara region of Western Australia, providing comprehensive health services supported by visiting clinicians and allied health practitioners.

“We aim to provide the highest standard of patient care whilst incorporating a holistic approach toward diagnosis and management of illness,” says Mr Chibawe.

“The scope of the term ‘holistic’ includes the development, promotion and maintenance of the physical, spiritual, social, economic and cultural well-being ‘of all our indigenous people’.”

PAMS was established to provide culturally appropriate and respectful health care services that will support improving the standard of health of the Martu people, and all Aboriginal people living in the Western Desert region of Western Australia.

“PAMS’ communities are visited on a regular basis by a number of allied health providers including physio, podiatrist, ear and hearing health specialists, optometrist, renal physicians and therapists also make regular visits to the Martu homelands.

“Clients are also supported through the Patient Assisted Travel Scheme to attend other specialist clinic reviews outside of the Martu homelands at Newman, Pt Hedland or Perth.”

A culturally appropriate place for health care is crucial for effective treatment in these communities.

“At each of our sites PAMS aims to deliver high quality culturally appropriate primary health care.

“An integrated service delivery model staffed by a multidisciplinary team, of both resident and visiting health professionals, provides a broad range of primary health services to the Martu people of our communities.

“Our medical practitioners are based at Jigalong but undertake fortnightly trips via charter plane to our other three communities of Punmu, Parnngurr and Kunawarritji.

“Core primary health care programs delivered at each of our sites include child and maternal health, school health, immunisations, Health checks across the lifespan, sexual health, mental health, rheumatic heart disease, school health, maternal health and men’s and women’s health.”

Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services are important for addressing the health gap between Indigenous communities and the rest of Australia, caused by numerous factors, such as limited housing, poor living arrangements and the cost of treatment in remote areas.

PAMS has recently received Commonwealth Government and State Government funding that has enabled it to commission state of the art primary health care facilities that place wellness at the centre of community.

“We have been working with Kaunitz Yeung Architecture, who are Sydney based, to deliver these buildings for the Commonwealth funded programs,” says Mr Chibawe.

“David Kaunitz, the Director, has over a decade of living and working in remote communities so he understands the importance of community consultation and delivering a place that supports high levels of care whilst being imbued with humanity and embraced by community.

Following the successful delivery of access to allied health care services via these clinics, PAMS is about to launch its latest, the PAMS Healthcare Hub in Newman, WA, which is the first primary healthcare facility of any type to be constructed in Newman.

The project services the entire Shire with a focus on the local Martu and Nyarparli Aboriginal people.

“For the first time Aboriginal people will have access in Newman to community controlled and culturally appropriate health services.

“We are delivering culturally appropriate health services in buildings that place wellness at the centre of the community. 

“They have access to a GP 24/7, and we have a schedule of visiting allied health professionals that is timed to the demand.

“With the launch of Newman we will see this expand even further with a building that includes five consultation rooms for a variety of allied health services, bringing essential healthcare closer to the community to avoid delay in treatment or flying to Perth.”


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.