Staff and students from the Flinders NT Medical Program in Katherine recently had an opportunity to join the Centre for Disease Control while conducting a community screening in Lajamanu, a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory.
Lajamanu with a population of approximately 1,000 is situated 900 kms south-west of Darwin and 600 kms west of Katherine, the principal major health service provider in the area.
Two children from separate Lajamanu households were diagnosed with acute glomerulonephritis, a reportable disease. This diagnosis was sufficiently important for the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) to establish an operation centre in Katherine and to call for an Acute Post Streptococcus Glomerulonephritis (APSGN) community screening action at Lajamanu.
The community screening action was set-up with the assistance of the Katherine West Health Board (KWHB, and Rural Clinical School (RCS) Site Director, Flinders NT Katherine, Professor Pascale Dettwiller was invited by the CDC to join the team going to Lajamanu. Two third-year medical students who were on clinical placement at the Flinders University Katherine campus Medical Program were also able to attend, offering them an opportunity for a unique outreach learning program and experience.
On site, the students were included when the team held end-of-day de-briefing sessions and the 8 am clinic meetings about progress of the screening, planning further activities, and addressing any cultural matters that might arise or have arisen from the process. The CDC nurses gave on-going information freely to the students and Dr Andrew Jones from KWHB, the GP in charge for the week, invited students to consult with him at the clinic.
There was also an opportunity to visit the renal unit which is equipped with two renal dialysis machines and is managed by the ‘Purple House’ organisation in Alice Springs. Fund raising from the sale of local artists’ paintings has kept the dialysis centre operational for the last 6 years. It can provide up to 60 sessions per month with two renal nurses working around the clock.
Professor Dettwiller said “the entire trip was a revelation. It provided us all with a better understanding of the profound difficulties which need to be overcome in order to improve Indigenous health in remote areas”.
The students had this to say about their experience:
“…many opportunities to be in the clinic and elsewhere – may not get to experience anywhere else…”
“…understanding of screening programs and population screening in general…”
“…I had a brief insight into how life is experienced in a remote Aboriginal community and the delivery of healthcare in such a remote community. It was interesting to see how the health care workers on the ground operated and some of the challenges faced by members of the community and by those in the health service. I learnt how a public screening program might be conducted and the different strategies required to encourage community participation. I learnt that in this community at least, the healthcare services are reactive rather than proactive and therefore they will not be able to effect meaningful, lasting change at a population level. Seeing life in the community, visiting some of the homes, going into the school made me see the disparities in living standards and the deficiencies in life in these communities as well as in our own.”
This outreach trip has reinforced the partnership between Flinders Katherine RCS and the Katherine Regional Health Services, which underpins excellence in teaching and enhances the learning experiences of students coming to Katherine.