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Issue #1440      27 January 2010

Pressure on SA over dialysis

A “whitefella border” is stopping Aboriginal people living in remote parts of South Australia from accessing dialysis in the Northern Territory town of Alice Springs – the closest centre offering the life-saving treatment.

Photo: Koori Mail

Anangu man Colin Brown, from Ernabella, in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, has called on federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin to intervene.

His appeal, which he has also made to Indigenous Health Minister and NT Federal MP Warren Snowdon, followed reports before Christmas that NT Health was denying new patients from Western Australia and SA access to dialysis at Alice Springs – by far the nearest service available.

Those reports prompted State and Territory health ministers to meet, with an agreement reached between WA and NT. But the SA minister refused to sign up to the deal, saying services were available in Adelaide and Port Augusta.

Mr Brown said the decision to ban new South Australian patients from using dialysis facilities in Alice Springs meant he and his wife Yayimpi, who had started dialysis, must live in Adelaide while she is being treated.

He wants to see dialysis facilities established on the APY lands so that Aboriginal people do not have to leave their country, family and friends.

“I believe the best thing would be for a renal unit to be located in the APY Lands, maybe at Umuwa or else at the old folks’ home in Ernabella,” he said.

“There seem to be more and more Anangu who are needing to go on dialysis. If we had a renal unit in the APY Lands, people could still live in their communities and on their country and have dialysis.

“Families would not have to move a long way away from their own places. Maybe to start off on dialysis they would still have to go to Alice Springs or Adelaide, but then they could come home and have dialysis in the APY Lands.

“If we had a renal unit in the APY Lands, it would help the Alice Springs and Adelaide hospitals because they would not have so many people needing their machines.

“Some Anangu who are living on dialysis in Adelaide and Alice Springs would be able to go home. This would free up not only dialysis machines, but also houses and other services in those places.”

Mr Brown said patients in Adelaide were unable to take part in cultural duties such as sorry business because they were living too far away.


Uniting Church minister Dean Whittaker said a number of his congregation were from the APY lands, and were in Adelaide for dialysis. He said it was common for people moving to Adelaide for treatment to be accompanied by other members of their family.

“You don’t end up with one person, you end up with a significant family, and each time they’ve come down with inadequate arrangements in place,” Mr Whittaker said. They are told to apply for SA housing, but the waiting list can be up to two years.”

Mr Whittaker urged the SA government to revisit the issue of dialysis patients from the APY, and consider providing facilities on the lands.

Sarah Brown, the manager of Purple House, a dialysis centre run by the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantkakt Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation, accused the SA government of ignoring Aboriginal people in the APY lands.

“The SA government is always banging on about providing services close to home but it seems that’s for everybody except blackfellas,” she said.

A spokeswoman for SA Health Minister John Hill said that while treatment options were always under review, services in Adelaide and Port Augusta were being improved to cope with increasing numbers of people requiring dialysis.

She said it was not as simple as just putting dialysis machines on the APY Lands as they required specialist staff, and also many end-stage renal patients often had other complex health needs.

The Koori Mail

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