Miwatj CEO Steve Rossingh Speaks to Nova Peris OAM about Yolŋu Health

Garma Festival is a highly anticipated annual celebration of culture for many Miwatj Health staff and clients. In between displays of miny’tji, manikay, buŋgul (art, song, dance) and storytelling, the 4-day festival provides an opportunity for a range of great discussions between national and world leaders.

At Garma 2023, one of the notable Garma conversations was between Miwatj Health CEO, Steve Rossingh, and Nova Peris OAM. During their talk, Steve shared that, among the many things to celebrate about Yolŋu life and culture, “there’s a sad story as well”. He referred to the state of health across East Arnhem Land and emphasised that “Yolŋu deserve much better”.

Health Statistics Akin To Developing Nation

Despite being one of the most beautiful places in Australia—one full of rich history, vibrant culture, and wonderful people, East Arnhem Land is also home to some of the nation’s worst health statistics. In fact, the region has the highest rates of preventable deaths across Australia; “an indictment” on our nation, our CEO said.

In the interview published by the National Indigenous Times, Steve shared that “the health of Yolŋu people across all of East Arnhem Land is probably the worst of all Australians…[and the region] has about the highest rates of chronic conditions in the country”. Amongst the preventable deaths that are occurring too often and too young (Coronary Heart Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, renal failure and suicide), people are often presenting with more than one chronic condition at once.

So, what can be done?

During his 2023 NAIDOC Week address to staff, Steve spoke of the benefits of community control being done properly, and the importance of remembering why we do the work we do.

“Where community control is done properly,” he said, “the outcomes make a huge difference.”

Similarly, in his Garma 2023 interview with Nova Peris OAM, Steve said that ‘properly coordinated and resourced community-controlled health services are the best case for addressing the crisis in Indigenous communities like East Arnhem Land’. He put a call our for governments to support the community-controlled sector.

“…Not just in terms of providing funding but adapting their service responses in a way that Aboriginal community control services are respected.”

Steve also spoke about acknowledging and addressing the social determinants of health—the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. These include, amongst others:

  • Food insecurity
  • Environmental health
  • Education
  • Unemployment
  • Housing

Staff at Miwatj Health work tirelessly to educate around and address many of these issues, but there needs to be more of an understanding outside of the corporation.

“Unless we start making investments in those fundamental factors, all we’ll be doing is patching people up and putting them on a treadmill of presentations to our clinics, going away, getting the same thing again and coming back,” he said. “We won’t be breaking the cycle.”

Find Out More

To read the full National Indigenous Times Garma 2023 interview between Miwatj Health CEO, Steve Rossingh and Nova Peris OAM, click here. To find out more about what the Miwatj Health team got up to over the Garma Festival weekend, read our Garma 2023 blog post.