A regional ‘mini Olypmics’ event has been a big winner in improving the health of the Riverina’s indigenous community.
More than 200 people in 15 teams competed in 10 different events at the 2018 competition, which was held in Wagga in October.
The event is an extension of the successful Aunty Jean’s program which aims to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal people living with chronic and complex conditions.
Aunty Jean’s began in the region in 2008 and is currently run in 10 sites including Wagga, Young, Cootamundra, Griffith, Tumut, Deniliquin, Lake Cargelligo, Darlington Point, Leeton and Narrandera.
“The programs give Aboriginal people opportunities to improve their health and well-being in a highly supportive environment, with elders leading the way,” MaryLouise Simpson, the chronic care coordinator with Murrumbidgee Local Health District Aboriginal Health, said.
“The day is about promoting good health, but is also about teamwork and having fun along the way.”
Ms Simpson said the thought of being able to compete in the “Olympics” motivated people take better care of their health, which in turn saw them reduce their blood pressure and lose weight.
There was also in improvement in mental health issues, such as a reduction in depression, she said.
Aboriginal people in the Riverina are more than twice as likely as non-indigenous people to be hospitalised for heart-related conditions, according to figures released by the Australia Heart Foundation.
The latest figures on this “ratio gap” showed that with a gap of 2.1 per cent, the Riverina ranked 33 out of 47 regions.
Wiradjuri man Greg Packer, who worked in health for more than 30 years, said that in addition to poor diet, he was concerned about a lack of exercise by older Aboriginal people.
“There needs to be more education programs in health,” he said.
“The younger people play a lot of sport, but as they get older and start to retire from these sports, they’re no longer getting enough exercise.”
Both Ms Simpson and Di Tremain, the MLHD’s manager of indigenous health, agreed there were multiple health issues in the region’s Aboriginal community.
Ms Tremain said another concern was the level of diabetes.
But there are positives too, she said.
Murrumbidgee has the highest immunisation rates for indigenous people in NSW and a pilot community consultation program in Narrandera has proved successful .
“There is quite a large indigenous community in Narrandera and they are telling us what they need through this consultation committee,” Ms Tremain said.
“There is no reason it couldn’t be expanded to other communities."
Ms Simpson said another program which was bringing positive results involved sharing a video with patients, before they underwent any medical procedures.
This video explained what was going to happen and how the hospital environment worked and provided information and reassurance, she said.