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Being an AHP during the pandemic

4 Apr 2022

Geoffrey Ganambarr from the Marthakal Homelands Health Service has been an Aboriginal Health Practitioner for 11 years. His challenging role involves being the first point of contact and providing health care over distances and during the Wet, but he finds a way, even during the pandemic.

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Geof­frey from the Marthakal Home­lands Health Service.

From its base on Elcho Island in Galiwin’ku in the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry, the mobile Marthakal Home­lands Health Ser­vice pro­vides care to the Yol­ngu Peo­ple over an area of 15,000 km².

Among the com­mu­ni­ty, behind the wheel of a 4WD, or in a plane trav­el­ling to the dis­tant cor­ners of the Home­lands, you are like­ly to find Geof­frey Ganam­barr, who has been an Abo­rig­i­nal Health Prac­ti­tion­er for over 11 years.

Geof­frey is mul­ti­lin­gual in tra­di­tion­al Yol­ngu Matha lan­guages and acts as a first point of con­tact for Yol­ngu Peo­ple seek­ing health support.

It was hard in the first place, but it’s easy now,” Geof­frey explains of his career so far. A lot of expe­ri­ence now.

I came here when I mar­ried my wife. She’s from here. I came from Milingim­bi [Island]. I was here for long years when I was young.”

The work is demand­ing at the best of times, but the pan­dem­ic has increased the difficulty.

As we talk on the phone in Jan­u­ary, Galiwin’ku has just gone into a sev­en-day lock­down due to COVID-19 cas­es in the region. Health ser­vices are tem­porar­i­ly lim­it­ed to med­ica­tions and emer­gency.

We are locked down at the moment and will be opened next week,” Geof­frey con­tin­ues. Peo­ple are fright­ened. We didn’t have this virus before.

It’s not hap­pened here before. It just comes and goes. Peo­ple can’t go back to Dar­win for a week­end.”

For­tu­nate­ly, Geof­frey and the team did every-thing they could to lim­it the risk before­hand.

We had some peo­ple come in from Dar­win and they explained to the peo­ple about this COVID-19,” Geof­frey says, remem­ber­ing back to a few weeks ago. Then they under­stand, and they came into the clin­ic and asked for a vaccination.

Dur­ing COVID vac­ci­na­tions I worked in the clin­ic, help­ing them last week. When the peo­ple come through, they see me first. I take tem­per­a­tures and then they go off and see the nurse for a vaccination.”

This year’s wet sea­son has added to the com­plex­i­ty: Wet sea­son, like biggest rain. We can’t go and fly to the Home­lands, the main­land. We stay in the one place. We dri­ve alright, here. Vis­it Home­lands around here.”

2 Geoffrey and Jannie

Geof­frey with Health Man­ag­er at Marthakal, Jan­nie Kraayenhof

As Geof­frey points out, there are many ben­e­fits for nurs­es if they decide to work for the Marthakal Home­lands Health Ser­vice. Togeth­er, Nurs­es and Abo­rig­i­nal Health Prac­ti­tion­ers can achieve great things.

It’s a good oppor­tu­ni­ty for them to come here, and get more expe­ri­ence, get expe­ri­ence from us,” he says.

When the vis­it­ing nurse can’t under­stand, we explain to them. We speak Yol­ngu Matha, and we explain to them.

We fol­low a recall sys­tem. Then we know who the peo­ple are and take the nurse to those people.”

Health Man­ag­er at Marthakal, Jan­nie Kraayen­hof, says that by employ­ing Abo­rig­i­nal Health Prac­ti­tion­ers like Geof­frey, the ser­vice empow­ers nurs­es to do what they do best.

Hav­ing a local per­son who is the first port of call – for me that is an impor­tant stan­dard to set in all Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties,” she says.

They speak the lan­guage, it’s their cul­ture, their peo­ple – if anyone’s going to under­stand each oth­er, it’s going to be these mob.”

If you are inter­est­ed in work­ing for Marthakal Home­lands Health Ser­vice as an AHP, a nurse, or a GP, you can email Jan­nie at health.​manager@​marthakal.​org.

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