In the frame of the International Women’s Day Summit, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) organised the first National Women’s Health Summit last Friday 02 March to unite the top influencers in women’s health sector and share, discuss, and dissect the most pressing challenges facing Australian women.
Central to the approach of the Summit was placing women’s health within the context of social determinants. The day saw a number of expert keynote speakers share their diverse experiences with the delegates. Keynotes included Health Minister Greg Hunt, Shadow Health Minister Catherine King, NACCHO CEO Pat Turner, and former NSW Health Minister Carmel Tebbutt, among others. The delegates then participated in small group discussions within a specialty area of their choice.
Multi-disciplinary representation from across the sector contributed to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specialist stream. The break-out sessions allowed for small group discussions to take place with a focus on identifying currently existing strategies that are ineffective, strategies that are making progress and health gaps that require urgent attention.
Among the issues discussed was the fact that Indigenous people are currently the least healthy population group in Australia, with many specific health concerns relating to women in particular. While Australia has a world-class health system, racism and marginalisation still exists inhibiting ease of access to fundamental services such as healthcare and social welfare. It was also acknowledged that indigenous people continue to suffer from the trauma of colonisation and the intergenerational impact of the Stolen Generation on their families.
The lack of funding safeguards to secure long-term delivery of health programs within indigenous communities was high on the list of challenges. It was identified that often times short-term funding is assigned to programs expected to produce long term solutions. Without proper financial commitment to compensate for unpredictable and known variables such as change of government, programs are unlikely to succeed.
The focus on workforce upskilling in cultural competency was viewed as a necessary intervention that needs to continue. Ensuring that there is a health workforce comprised of both indigenous and non-indigenous clinicians and health care workers that both understand and are able to meet the health needs of this population group through an approach underpinned by respect, trust and collaboration was identified as key to addressing barriers of access.
Finally, racism was a topic that was front and centre at the Summit. While racism exists across all industries in Australia, more transparency and accountability measures are needed particularly within the health sector, as it is well established that racism has a profound effect on health.
These findings and suggestions will be incorporated in a women’s health priorities document that aims to provide an overview of the state of women’s health, challenges and considerations for moving forward. The document is currently under consultation by attending delegates in an effort to capture their rich and diverse expertise and to promote collective action.