Early findings from an ECU research project have found Indigenous communities in WA’s South West lack trust in the government’s COVID-19 messaging.

Professor and Director of the Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet Neil Drew said communities expressed a high level of “bewilderment and confusion” about which information they can trust.

“There are historically low levels of trust between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and government instrumentalities and services,” Professor Drew said.

“Our respondents wanted simple, visual data they could cotton on to very quickly and to see local people they trusted – what we would call ‘natural helpers’.”

Professor Drew said natural helpers are people who Aboriginal communities look to for support in times of crisis.

The ECU research project consulted with over 60 Aboriginal people at workshops held in Narrogin, Bunbury, Mandurah and Armadale.

In WA only 27 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated and communities across the country continue to lag behind the rest of the population.

Professor Drew said Aboriginal medical services were doing a “terrific job” but were often very “overburdened”.

“The criticism is not of the other aboriginal services that are there,” he said.

“But from other service providers and people that know about the vaccine to come out and sit down with them in their communities and talk them through their concerns.”

Noongar Community Cultural Consultant Brett Hill said natural helpers who were vaccinated could encourage others in their community to get the jab.

“A natural helper could approach them and talk about their own experience,” Mr Hill said.

Mr Hill said long waits at metropolitan vaccination centres were a “real concern” for aboriginal communities.

“A lot of our people can’t wait for three, four hours.

“They got frustrated because they couldn’t wait so they left so obviously they miss out on the vaccine,” Mr Hill said.

Mr Hill said one of the key questions asked was where to go for updated information.

“Elders particularly said their local doctor ‘Because I’ve been dealing with him for a long time’ or ‘The local pharmacy because that’s where I get my medication’,” Mr Hill said.

Mr Hill said Aboriginal communities requested further resources provided to Aboriginal health services and for key decision-makers to listen to their concerns.

He said it was generational trauma and the “danger and fear” of government policy that drove concerns overall.

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