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04 Dec 2018

Adrian Carson shakes his head sadly when he tells the story of the first Indigenous health service in Brisbane.

“The first Aboriginal medical service opened in an old shopfront in Red Hill in 1973. It didn’t last a week before it was firebombed,” Mr Carson, the CEO of the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH) says.

But the dedicated doctors and nurses did not give up. They fixed the broken windows, they swept up the debris, and they reopened. And their work continues to inspire Aboriginal health workers today.

Forty-five years on, IUIH has grown out of the original service into a network of 20 community-controlled clinics across south-east Queensland, making real improvements to health outcomes for the growing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

IUIH was formed in the wake of the launch of the Closing the Gap Strategy. Five separate Community Controlled Health Services (CCHS) agreed to join forces and work together to improve the health of the growing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in the region.


“The way that IUIH has pulled the community-controlled sector together doesn’t exist everywhere," Mr Carson said.

“Our model provides good care and good outcomes. We’ve been able to provide services that they said we would never be able to provide.”

With about 65,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in south-east Queensland, the region is home to more than one-third of the State’s total Indigenous population. And that figure is projected to grow to more than 130,000 by 2031.

IUIH brings together the founder of that first, firebombed clinic – ATSICHS - with Kalwun Development Corporation, Kambu Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation for Health, Yulu-burri-Ba Aboriginal Corporation for Community Health, and Moreton Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service.

The clinics have a total of 35,000 clients, and provide 120,000 episodes of care a year.

They use a “one-stop shop” approach to delivering primary health care, with general practice, social work, psychiatry, dental, physiotherapy, podiatry, immunisation, and other health care services provided in one location, with Indigenous staff and a welcoming and familiar environment.

IUIH is also a major employer of Indigenous people, with 660 staff, and was a finalist in this year’s BHP-Billiton/Reconciliation Australia Indigenous Governance Awards.

One of its maternal health programs has halved the pre-term birth rate in four years to 6 per cent, and is the subject of a paper currently being reviewed by The Lancet.

“If this program was in Cape York, we’d have a Nobel Peace Prize,” Mr Carson said.


Published: 04 Dec 2018