Renee Blackman runs a health service covering a vast chunk of north-west Queensland – about 640,000 sq km, an area larger than Spain – that provides services to about 7,000 Aboriginal people in communities from Mount Isa to the Gulf.
While the cultures and circumstances of these communities are diverse, Blackman says they share a common health threat: that the harmful impacts of poverty are magnified in remote locations.
Blackman, a Gubbi Gubbi woman and CEO of an Aboriginal community-controlled health service Gidgee Healing, sees poverty contributing to poor health in remote communities in many ways. People cannot afford healthy foods, to access or maintain housing, to buy vital medications, or to travel to regional centres such as Cairns or Townsville for surgery that would help them or their children, she says.
But mostly, she says, poverty means people have more pressing priorities than whether their diabetes is being well controlled.
“None of that matters if the priority is to put food on the table first, or a roof over the table,” she says. “Worrying about medication or a specialist appointment or an allied health wraparound service isn’t a priority.”
Blackman says she gets really frustrated when health groups put out simplistic messages for people to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. It reminds her that so much health debate is far removed from the realities of people living in poverty.