New funding for First Nations COVID-19 response

The Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future project team have been awarded research funding in a unique round that privileges First Nations voices in the global response to COVID-19.

The funding was announced on 14 October by the Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Disease Emergencies (APPRISE) Centre of Research Excellence, thanks to a $2 million donation from the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

How is COVID-19 affecting First Nations people?

Associate Professor Chamberlain and her team will use the grant to extend the work of La Trobe’s four-year Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future project. The new funding aims to use their knowledge of trauma to inform best-practice responses to COVID-19.

While the research will draw on data from First Nations people from around Australia, it will also investigate how increased fear and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic may compound distress relating to pre-existing trauma in the general population.

Associate Professor Chamberlain has been working as an epidemiologist in Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) COVID-19 response since March. She has been embedded within a team responding to the needs of priority communities, including international students, First Nations people and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. A trained midwife, she is an expert in public health and complex trauma.

“Through my work at DHHS, I’ve seen how restrictions are an important part of our health response to COVID-19. However, little is known about how these public health measures could be triggering trauma responses for people with pre-existing trauma,” she said.

“Many First Nations people have experienced deep trauma as a result of previous state-sanctioned actions, including removal of Aboriginal children from their families. It’s important to understand how state-sanctioned COVID-19 public health responses could trigger trauma responses and ensure we design public health responses that are safe and appropriate.”

This work also brings new researchers with public health expertise to the team, including:

  • Dr Michelle Bovill, Thurru Indigenous Health Unit, Newcastle University
  • Dr Caroline Atkinson, We Al-li Foundation (HPNF Associate Investigator)
  • Dr Simon Graham, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne
  • Dr Janine Mohammed, Chief Executive Officer, The Lowitja Institute
  • Dr Cindy Woods, Senior Research Fellow, Judith Lumley Centre, La Trobe University
  • Ms Christina Heris, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne
  • Dr Shannon Bennetts, Research Fellow, Judith Lumley Centre, La Trobe University

Supporting First Nations-led research

APPRISE used a First Nations-led process to award the funding. It began with the creation of the APPRISE First Nations Council to advise on all aspects of the grant process from research priorities to evaluation criteria, said APPRISE investigator Professor Adrian Miller of the Jirrbal people of North Queensland.

“The whole process was unique because rather than just having a small proportion of First Nations people sitting on a panel, the First Nations Council was entirely comprised of senior First Nations researchers,” he said.

A total of 11 projects from across Australia were awarded funding. All projects are led by First Nations people and have predominantly First Nations team members.

More about APPRISE

The Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Disease Emergencies (APPRISE) Centre of Research Excellence is developing research to inform Australia’s emergency response to infectious diseases.

The APPRISE CRE is an Australia-wide network of experts involved in medical, scientific, public health and ethics research. APPRISE is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Learn more about APPRISE.
Learn more about Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future project.