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New collaborative initiative aims to improve Indigenous health outcomes

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Indigenous health

A groundbreaking collaboration between community members and leading medical institutions in the Hunter and New England regions is set to improve how research is conducted to enhance Indigenous health outcomes. 

The initiative, Research Our Way, brings together the University of Newcastle, Awabakal Limited, the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and the Hunter New England Local Health District to establish a new standard for tertiary sector engagement with Indigenous communities. 

According to Professor Kelvin Kong, the first Indigenous surgeon in Australia, the core principle of ‘Research Our Way’ lies in community engagement and involvement. This approach has been in development since 2021 and involves extensive collaboration with local Aboriginal community members, Elders and healthcare practitioners. 

Nathan Towney, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Indigenous Strategy and Leadership at the University of Newcastle, emphasised the need to prioritise First Nations voices in research. Historically, Indigenous peoples have been research subjects rather than active participants in shaping research agendas. 

The project aligns with the 2024 Australian Universities Accord, which highlights Indigenous success and impactful research as key priorities for the sector. Central to ‘Research Our Way’ is ‘Wukul Yabang’, an advisory panel comprising diverse local community and health representatives. This panel provides crucial oversight of research ethics, methodology, and cultural considerations. 

Raylene Gordon from Hunter New England Local Health District emphasised the importance of valuing Indigenous ways of knowing and doing in research endeavours. Similarly, Jason Smith, CEO of Awabakal Ltd, highlighted the significance of Wukul Yabang in ensuring that research aligns with community needs and priorities. 

Dr Sarah Browning, a non-Indigenous PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle, shared her positive experience presenting her research proposal to Wukul Yabang. She underscored the importance of embedding Aboriginal voices and experiences in research from the outset. 

The initiative also responds to recent critiques of the Federal Government’s ‘Closing the Gap’ strategy, with a focus on improved power sharing and Indigenous data sovereignty. Yeena Thompson, University of Newcastle Aboriginal Health Research Partner, emphasised the holistic understanding of health that encompasses cultural practices, spirituality and connection to Country. 

This article was also published on the Healthcare Channel. 

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