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6 July 2022 3 min read

For tens of thousands of years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have developed deep knowledge, understanding, care and respect for the lands and waters of this country. This makes Indigenous scientists, Australia’s first scientists.

By bringing Indigenous science and western science together, we can solve Australia's greatest challenges. Here are some examples of how we're doing just that.

e-health services in remote locations means it's easier to get the services they need.

A firm eye on healthcare

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples don't have equal access to healthcare in Australia. One of the main reasons for this is a lack of access to health services. This is especially the case in remote communities. So we’re working with remote Indigenous communities in Northern Australia to increase access to eye care services.

There is a large number of people living in remote communities in Northern Australia with diabetes. It’s a disease that can cause eye problems and, if left undetected, can result in blindness. The remoteness means it isn't easy for people to to see a specialist and get the services they need.

So we're working with Queensland Health, Laynhapuy Homelands Aboriginal Corporation, Marthakal Homeland and Resource Centre Aboriginal Corporation, and Gidgee Healing to establish a telehealth service to tackle this problem.

This service trains remote health workers to capture high-quality images of the eye, enter data, upload information to a secure telehealth portal and review diagnostic advice. This then helps local health practitioners supply the data to ophthalmologists (eye care specialists who diagnose diabetic retinopathy).

This service means patients don't need to travel to metro areas to receive eye health care. It provides the best care regardless of their situation.

Indigenous-driven e-health framework

E-heath tools such as mobile apps, telehealth platforms and virtual care are becoming more popular. So we need to ensure they are culturally appropriate for First Nations peoples. In Australia, this means making sure the design and adoption is led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Indigenous Research Group at the Australian e-health Research Centre (AeHRC)[Link will open in a new window] has been looking into this. Recently, the group published a paper[Link will open in a new window] which outlines a program of research, led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to establish a framework for e-health interventions.

This research seeks to lift the quality and sustainability of e-health interventions through authentic co-design. For example, if an app has potential to support Indigenous models of care, the framework will provide a guide for the design and development of the solution. It will be a culturally safe e-health solution that translates to positive health outcomes.

The group also won a CSIRO Award in 2021[Link will open in a new window] for their commitment to championing innovative e-health solutions.

Smart home sensors for thermal comfort

Residents in Alice Springs Town Camps have reported feeling uncomfortable with the temperatures of their homes to Tangentyere – their Aboriginal Community Controlled Council. So the Tangentyere Research Hub invited AeHRC’s Indigenous health scientists to help.

We collaborated with Tangentyere and Town Camp communities to gather evidence about the thermal performance of the homes and investigate health impacts. The results will help the residents advocate for improved living conditions.

We used our Smarter Safer Homes technology in this unique setting to measure temperature, power usage and humidity in people’s homes (the sensors do not collect vision or audio data). We’ve successfully used this technology before[Link will open in a new window].

This 12-month feasibility study involving 20 households has showed readings that consistently sit outside the accepted thermal comfort range of 18-24 degrees Celsius. The research collaboration is also linking the household environmental data with power insecurity data, as this a significant issue for Town Camp residents. As a result, more research is planned for 2022.

Documenting seasonal understandings

You're familiar with summer, autumn, winter and spring but did you know there are Indigenous seasonal calendars? They’re based on tens of thousands of years of observation and knowledge.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language groups from across Australia have partnered with us to document their own seasonal calendars[Link will open in a new window]. These calendars are important enablers for sharing and learning about Indigenous science and management of Country. This is because seasonal understanding of Country underpins lots of activities.

Indigenous Knowledge of the seasons is highly localised and unique to each language group across Australia. The number of seasons recognised in an annual cycle, the length of each season, and how they are locally defined and understood, differs a lot depending on where the seasonal knowledge of Country has developed. Keen to learn more? We co-produced an ABC TV series on this work: Many Lands, Many Seasons[Link will open in a new window].

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