University hosts pandemic influenza experts

Published 27 February 2012

Adrian Miller
Southern Cross University will host a group of health experts who are seeking to improve health outcomes for Australia’s Indigenous communities ahead of the next outbreak of pandemic influenza.

The workshop, entitled ‘International Conversations: Pandemic Influenza’, will be held in Lismore on Tuesday, February 28.

Among those present will be Canadian pandemic influenza experts Professor Leonard Tsuji and PhD student Nadia Charania, from the University of Waterloo, and Professor Adrian Miller who heads up Southern Cross University’s Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples.

“Canada’s First Nation communities were highly impacted by the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, suffering higher rates of infection, just like they were in Australia,” said Professor Miller.

During the 2009 outbreak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had a five times higher risk of death during the swine flu pandemic than non-Indigenous Australians.

“Indigenous people are more vulnerable to the flu because of their existing high levels of other illnesses like diabetes, kidney or lung diseases and high blood pressure,” Professor Miller said. “So when they contract pandemic influenza on top of such illnesses there are more adverse results, like hospitalisations and even death.

“Indigenous people make up only 2.5 per cent of the population, but they accounted for 17 per cent of swine flu-related hospital admissions and 12 per cent of deaths.”

More than 20 academics and health authority representatives will be sharing their research methods, findings and experiences at the workshop.

“What we’re trying to do is help countries with vulnerable populations, typically Indigenous and First Nations, to prepare better next time,” said Professor Miller.

"Australia’s current plans are inadequate. To our dismay the National Pandemic Influenza Plan, released in 2010, did not target Indigenous people as a special risk group."

Professor Miller said the research team was also calling for local disaster management planning and local health authorities to align with the National Pandemic Influenza Plan.

“We need a national response that informs health services, health care workers and local government about their roles and how to respond.

“For example, we know from the last serious outbreak of swine flu three years ago that health care workers didn’t know how to properly assess the disease, while local councils didn’t know how to respond appropriately to the threat in their communities.

“At every level there appeared to be major problems with not knowing how to link into the national response. Unfortunately, Indigenous people suffered the most.”
Photo: Professor Adrian Miller from the Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples

Media contact: Sharlene King media officer, Southern Cross University Lismore, 02 6620 3508 or 0429 661 349.