Landmark First Peoples health study to roll out across Queensland

1 Aug 2023

A Queensland research project will place health workers in Indigenous communities and study the long-term wellbeing of 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

The study led by The University of Queensland and Mater Research Institute will identify First Nations  families during pregnancy and monitor the health and wellbeing of participating mothers, babies and fathers over five years.

A $4.69m National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grant will extend a pilot Indigenous Queensland Family Cohort (IQFC) study from Mater’s South Brisbane health campus to Rockhampton, Townsville, Cairns and the Metro North Hospital and Health Service regions.

MRI-UQ Indigenous Health researcher, Associate Professor Kym Rae, said the team would provide interventions to improve the health of participants while building understanding of the serious health issues faced by First Nations people.

“Importantly, the study will facilitate early diagnoses that allow us to support the participants in making decisions about appropriate healthcare interventions,” Dr Rae said.

“We plan to improve our understanding of the drivers of long-term health for First Peoples, as well what can influence the development of disease.

“This will inform long-term policy changes that will benefit First Peoples across the nation.”

Dr Rae said the team worked with Indigenous organisations, consumers and health services to identify priorities for research.

“The most experienced team in Australia supported the design and implementation of the study,” she said.

“Indigenous health workers at the frontline of the study will work with local community-controlled services, as well as Health and Hospital Services, to ensure new families can access healthcare and support services as and when they are needed.

“In every community we have been working in, we have heard about a lack of health services staff,” Dr Rae said.

“This includes general practitioners, midwives, Aboriginal health workers, allied health staff and specialist services for children, including paediatricians.

“This project will allow families in need to access these healthcare services without going on lengthy waiting lists – which means better outcomes for children.”

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan identified research as a priority and the Queensland study will align with cohorts in Victoria, Western Australian and the Northern Territory to provide national data to drive policy.

“Our IQFC study is also unique, in that Torres Strait Islanders are a unique population of First Peoples who are exclusive to Queensland, so we will be collecting research data that other cohorts aren’t able to,” Dr Rae said.

IQFC Indigenous Research Assistant Loretta Weatherall is a proud Gamilaraay woman who has already spent more than 10 years delivering programs in Aboriginal communities – and she’s excited about the potential of the new, expanded cohort study.

“I’m passionate about my culture and about closing the gap – not just in health, but in everything,” Ms Weatherall said.

“My role is to recruit participants into the IQFC and follow them on their journey by collecting their samples, as well as staying in touch and building their trust.

“I really believe that we can improve outcomes in Queensland for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families through this program.”