Author: Tamara Riley & Stephanie Curtis
Key to AUSMAT’s philosophy and deployment effectiveness is the ability to embed within a community to facilitate and support local health providers. The ability to integrate and collaborate with local organisations, government and workforce is essential for a successful mission. The critical importance of partnerships was highlighted when AUSMAT deployed to assist the COVID-19 response in Western and Far Western New South Wales in 2021. During the mission, PhD Candidate and Research Associate Tamara Riley embedded within AUSMAT as part of an Indigenous Specialist Liaison. Ms Riley took on the role to research and analyse the success of the partnership inclusion for domestic deployments and has, with the team, recently published these results in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
In August 2021, a public health emergency was declared in New South Wales (NSW) following the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant in communities in the Western and Far West Local Health Districts, including among a number of larger Indigenous communities. On 12 August, the NSW government requested assistance to the Australian Government and AUSMAT were deployed on 20 August with the primary objective to support the implementation of rapid COVID-19 vaccination to priority groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Soon after, an Indigenous Specialist Liaison Team (ISLT) from the Australian National University were requested to assist the regional effort to embed in and assist the AUSMAT Alpha team to maximise community engagement.
The ISLT used a comprehensive methodology to support with planning, engagement and delivery, and to permit local leadership and ownership over healthcare delivery. This involved activities throughout the following stages:
- Prior to deployment: engaged virtually with response teams to understand how to best contribute to efforts.
- During deployment before community visits: facilitated pre-engagement and planning by coordinating communications within and between local Aboriginal organisations and AUSMAT to maximise culturally safe vaccination opportunities.
- During deployment during community visits: facilitated links and effective communication between AUSMAT with community members, local organisations and the Aboriginal health workforce.
- After community visits: debriefed with local partners and identified lessons learned which could be useful to subsequent vaccine planning, engagement and delivery.
During the deployment, AUSMAT together with the embedded ISLT, developed a partnership framework to enhance vaccine uptake through active participation of local Aboriginal leaders and partners. Two high-impact partnership models were implemented, which were iteratively adapted, and optimised community feedback and lessons learned:
- Engagement model: prioritised achieving a balance across community, capacity and evidence.
- Vaccine delivery model: prioritised achieving maximum impact across mobile outreach, vaccine hubs, and health promotion/transportation.
This partnership was successful to achieve the delivery of 1,927 vaccines over three weeks. The field team reported improvements in operations during the deployment, following lessons learned and adaptions to the framework. This culminated in a fully integrated hub and spoke community vaccination model with outreach being implemented in week three in NSW’s lower far west “two rivers” area with high uptake and overwhelming community engagement. Overall, the embedded approach facilitated local engagement and service delivery, ensured Aboriginal leadership and the models could be adapted to local contexts and applied in other areas facing low vaccination coverage.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to Gabrielle Lyons and Stephanie Curtis for their assistance in producing this newsletter article. Thanks to Jill Guthrie, Lisa Whop, Nick Walsh, Angie Jackson and Professor Tarun Weeramanthri for their contributions in the field and to this article. We acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands that were worked on and the support and leadership of all partners during this deployment. Further detail of the partnership model are detailed in a peer-review article available here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1753-6405.13293