Context: Aboriginal people are particularly vulnerable to pandemic influenza A, H1N109. This was first recognized in the First Nations of Canada. There have been calls for close planning with Aboriginal people to manage these risks. This article describes the process and findings from preliminary community consultations into reducing influenza risk, including pandemic H1N1(09) swine influenza, in Aboriginal communities in the Hunter New England area of northern New South Wales, Australia.
Issue: Consultation was conducted with 6 Aboriginal communities in response to the rapidly evolving pandemic and was designed to further develop shared understanding between health services and Aboriginal communities about appropriate and culturally safe ways to reduce the influenza risk in communities. Agreed risk mitigation measures identified in partnership are being introduced throughout Hunter New England area.
Lessons learned: Five theme areas were identified that posed particular challenges to limiting the negative impact of pandemic influenza; and a number of potential solutions emerged from focus group discussions: (1) local resource person: local identified 'go to' people are heard and trusted, but need to have an understanding of H1N109; (2) clear communication: information must be presented simply, clearly and demonstrating respect for local culture; (3) access to health services: sick people need to know where to get help and how to get there without infecting others; (4) households and funerals: infection control messages should be aligned with the reality of life in Aboriginal communities, and the importance of attending family and cultural gatherings; (5) social and community support issues: Aboriginal people need to have a say in how support is provided. Influenza pandemics are a serious threat to the health and social functioning of Aboriginal communities. Measures to reduce the risk of influenza in communities must be developed with the communities to maximise their acceptance. The process of engagement and ongoing respectful negotiations with communities is critical to developing culturally appropriate pandemic mitigation and management strategies.