Alaska trip to attend hepatitis B meeting a first for NT Indigenous health workers

Three Indigenous health workers from a remote island community will leave Australia for the first time to speak at a hepatitis B conference in Alaska.

The trio, Sarah Bukulatjpi, George Gurruwiwi and Roslyn Dhurrkay, work in the community of Galiwinku on Elcho Island where they screen, treat and educate people about hepatitis B.

In Northern Australia, between 10 and 20 per cent of the Indigenous population is infected with the preventable hepatitis B virus, which can lead to liver failure and liver cancer.

The recent death of Elcho Island man and world-famous musician Dr G Yunupingu, who contracted hepatitis B as a child, is fresh in the minds of the community and health workers, Paula Binks from the Menzies School of Health Research said.

Ms Binks works with the Elcho Island health workers and is helping them get to Alaska.

"We've been deeply saddened by the passing of Dr G Yunupingu and this is why we're doing the research into hepatitis B because we would really like to prevent hepatitis B leading into other serious medical conditions," Ms Binks said.

After working as an educator, mentor and clinical health worker on Elcho Island for 10 years, 51-year-old clan leader Mr Gurruwiwi said he was looking forward to the big trip.

"It's an exciting one. I've never been to other parts of the world. It's my first time," Mr Gurruwiwi said.

"Through [this] project I'm going over to the other side of the world... to share my knowledge and education to other parts of the world and my culture as well, my dignity, my pride."

The clan leader said the community were ultimately happy about the group's travel, despite the distance.

"I think they [the community] will be a bit worried, it's a long way down — down or under, I don't know — but it's suits me that I'm still a researcher for Menzies, that's why I'm proud to be selected," Mr Gurruwiwi said.

Ms Bukulatjpi, 36, said she would be presenting to the conference on how workers monitor, treat and educate people on Elcho Island about hepatitis B.

"It's going to be long trip, and it's the first time for us to leave the home and go to another side of a country," she said.

"We've bought warm clothes today so it's going to be good.

"It is a good thing to go and see in other country's Indigenous [people], how they do this kind of program so we can learn from them, so it's a cross-cultural learning thing."

For 58-year-old Ms Dhurrkay the trip is about meeting and sharing stories with the other Indigenous groups who work in the field.

It will be the first time she's left the Northern Territory.

"[I'm] excited and proud, I'm going there to visit all the Indigenous people who will come to the conference," she said.

"I'm pleased to go there because we are going there and we telling the stories about how we treat people on Elcho Island. We'll be telling them stories, let them know how we treat people in Galiwinku."

Ms Binks said preparations for the group to travel had taken months.

"We had to officially, legally change everybody's names, get new birth certificates reissued," she said.

"We had issues just having enough ID in order to get passports, so we had to back step and get proof of age cards, drivers licences and even opening the bank accounts."

The group have now got their first passports and leave Darwin for the World Indigenous Peoples' Conference on Viral Hepatitis in Anchorage, Alaska on Thursday.

 

 

Article by: ABC News
Author: Lucy Marks
Link to Articlehttp://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-02/aboriginal-health-workers-hosted-in-alaska/8765916