Food security during COVID a critical challenge for remote Indigenous communities

NAIDOC Week 2020 – ‘Always was, always will be’

To celebrate NAIDOC Week 2020, the Public Health Association of Australia is publishing a series of articles, capturing the learnings and lessons from presentations at our recent Australian Public Health Conference. Given the year we have had, not surprisingly, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic dominated much of our 2020 conference. We hope you enjoy these articles which strongly focus on sharing information, building resilience and keeping First Nations people safe throughout the pandemic.


Food security during COVID a critical challenge for remote Indigenous communities

Typically, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote areas are more likely to experience food insecurity than those in non-remote areas. The situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as the government closed down access, to keep the risk of coronavirus spread away from vulnerable communities.

Stacey Holden is a dietician with a passion for working in public health nutrition and she sees the food security issues as another health equity issue for Indigenous communities.

‘Evidence shows that food security and nutrition play a key role in improving health outcomes, reducing morbidity and closing the gap,’ Stacey said.

‘Peak Indigenous groups representing and servicing these remote communities have long advocated for government action to address this issue.’

During early 2020, as Australia responded to the growing spread of the pandemic, food security in remote, mainly Aboriginal communities, became a major issue.

Stacey’s research project looks at media coverage of the issue and she believes ‘media is a vehicle to shape the government food security response.’

As a result, a National Indigenous Australia Agency Food Security Working Group was established and the government announced a parliamentary inquiry into food prices and food security.


Another important research project reported to the Australian Public Health Conference was using Flutracking data to assess the impact of COVID-19 on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Flutracking is the largest online survey of its type in the world with more than 80,000 Australians participating every week. This included nearly 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in 2020.

Sandra Carlson, from NSW Health, said the findings showed both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants recorded historically low levels of flu during the pandemic.

‘The average monthly rate of confirmed influenza notifications for April-August 2020 was also at its lowest levels since 2004,’ Sandra said.

‘Overall effective prevention of respiratory virus transmission through physical distancing and other public health measures has clearly been effective.’

Sandra said early involvement and leadership by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public health practitioners, researchers and communities must be acknowledged.

‘We are now in the planning stages of developing a national cultural governance group to provide guidance and oversight of the data as it relates to First Nations people.’

Sandra encouraged more Australians to take about three minutes to sign up to Flutracking on




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