The Commonwealth Government has withdrawn $2.3 million of funding provided to NSW Ministry of Health for sexual health programs in NSW Aboriginal communities a move that will heavily impact the welfare of many Aboriginal communities in NSW.
The NSW Ministry of Health informed the Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council of NSW (AH&MRC) on the 28th June that funding will cease on the 30th June 2016. In response to the cuts, NSW Health has decided to withdraw its support for these programs. This joint decision will seriously impact on the ability of 15 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) in NSW and a number of other organisations to continue to deliver these vital services.
Sexual health funding employs Aboriginal Health Workers and other staff to engage with their communities to facilitate access to appropriate STI, HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C testing, treatment and management programs. Aboriginal Health Workers also deliver crucial culturally appropriate and age-appropriate education and prevention programs.
AH&MRC CEO, Sandra Bailey, believes this decision shows how out of touch governments are with what is happening at the local level when health data clearly shows that Aboriginal people in NSW are already overrepresented in STI, HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B rates of infection.
"It is incredible that vital funding is being withdrawn when rates of STIs are at an all-time high and where loss of funding could increase the burden of disease in Aboriginal communities that are underserviced and already carry a high burden of disease," said Ms Bailey.
The ACCHS model of service delivery is well recognised as the most effective way of delivering health care to Aboriginal communities and all existing NSW Health STI and BBV strategies identify Aboriginal people as a priority population. Importantly, ACCHSs have always been recognised as priority settings to deliver sexual health services and reduce infections.
"Given the weight of evidence and the on paper commitment of State and Federal governments to improving Aboriginal health, it is difficult to understand the rationale for withdrawal of this meagre investment," said Ms Bailey.
"At a population level, this decision will undeniably reduce Aboriginal peoples access to services, including appropriate prevention, testing, management and treatment and will result in increases in both STIs and BBVs in our communities, including HIV.
NSW Aboriginal communities have the right to high quality, effective and culturally appropriate sexual health and blood borne virus services. A single consultation with a GP does not replace the evidence based, holistic, comprehensive primary health care service that ACCHSs provide through Aboriginal Health Workers & Health Practitioners, Allied Health workers, clinic other health specialists and prevention and health promotion activities."
There is concern that the short notice provided of termination of funding will cause unnecessary industrial and employment consequences for ACCHSs and other services that have employed Aboriginal health workers to deliver programs.
It is unacceptable that both governments have failed to communicate effectively in conveying such decision to the ACCHs. Funding has been cut literally a day before employees contracts may cease in line with the end of financial year.
"AH&MRC signed a Partnership Agreement with the NSW Government through the Health Portfolio, and the approach taken by the Ministry of Health in this matter undermines the sectors trust and confidence in the Partnership", says Ms Bailey.
Ms Bailey called on the NSW Ministry of Health to urgently reinstate this funding, in order to show their ongoing commitment to improving Aboriginal health and by providing appropriate levels of investment to support the continued implementation of numerous State strategies and frameworks.
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