Hepatitis SA: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Harm Reduction Project

In News by AIVL

At AIVL, we like nothing more than having a good yarn with our Member Organisations! We love hearing about projects and initiatives that are focussed on service provision with Mob. We value and hold dear to our hearts the relationships we are nurturing with the traditional custodians of the land. We had the pleasure of catching up with Carol Holly, from Hepatitis SA recently, who gave us the run down on a recent Harm Reduction Project they’ve had on the boil.

AIVL: Hey Carol! How are things going in South Australia?
Carol: Really good thanks! Its been a busy year.
A: I think it’s been challenging for everyone trying to get “back to normal” in the midst of COVID.
C: Yeah, we are all trying to find the “new normal”. It’s another layer to the challenge.
A: I know that Hep SA is very focussed on ensuring the equitable allocation of resources to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community. Can you give us an update on any recent initiatives?
C: Sure thing! We are very proud of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Harm Reduction Project. This was funded by the Australian Government, via AIVL. The Project consists of a multi-targeted approach to increase Aboriginal community and workforce awareness of harm reduction and injecting related issues. We want to reduce the stigma associated with injecting drug use, improve access to sterile injecting equipment for Aboriginal people who inject drugs and increase their harm reduction/safer injecting knowledge.

A: That sounds awesome! You know the mantra in Peer Based work, “Nothing about us without us”; How have you made sure that our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community is part of this project from the get go?
C: Hepatitis SA worked with (and continues working with) the Aboriginal Health Council SA (AHCSA) to achieve the project aims and outputs. The project is guided by a Steering Committee that provides ongoing advice and contribution to the project’s design, development and implementation.
We also use a peer-based approach to provide information on safer injecting to Aboriginal people who inject drugs. Aboriginal peers were recruited, trained and, supported to promote the project, recruit participants, and provide peer education to Aboriginal people who inject drugs.

A: How did you go about the recruitment process?
C: To recruit our Aboriginal outreach peer educators, the project was promoted through the Radio Adelaide Aboriginal program, Nunga Wangga. We also used Hepatitis SA peer educators, steering committee members, AOD/BBV sector workers and community networks to get the message out there. Flyers and posters were also produced and distributed to CNPs (NSPs) and other services.

A: Personally, I’m a huge fan of Indigenous Radio shows and stations! Were you able to recruit the number of people you needed?
C: Yes! We ended up with four very motivated and committed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peer Workers. It was amazing!

A: So what was the next step?
C: Our Peer recruits were provided training in hepatitis C transmission, testing and treatment; overdose prevention, recognition and response; safer injecting; CNP/NSP training; and peer educator induction training. They went on to provide Safer Injecting workshops for Aboriginal people who inject drugs, in Port Adelaide and Port Augusta areas. Our peer educators provided drop-in peer education to Aboriginal injectors at Drug and Alcohol Services SA (DASSA) Northern service, Elizabeth and Uniting Communities, Adelaide CNPs/NSP.

A: This sounds great! But we all know nothing happens in the AOD/BBV sector in a simple and straightforward way. What were some hurdles the Project faced?
C: COVID, COVID COVID!!! Shortly after state borders opened, social distancing restrictions resulted in a lack of available venues, especially in the outer suburbs, for peer educator training sessions and safer injecting groups. SA state legislation also stipulates that anyone employed by Hepatitis SA is required to be fully COVID vaccinated.

Organisational policy also requires all new employees to undertake a national police check. COVID vaccination requirements, providing proof of vaccination, and undertaking a police check (which requires photo ID documents) presented multiple barriers to recruiting Aboriginal peer educators.
We also had to cancel a rural trip, because when we arrived at our location, our Partner Agency Staff member had contracted COVID. We couldn’t continue.

Another hurdle we faced was we initially wanted to support Aboriginal peer educators to facilitate Safer Injecting Workshops. The drawback was that workshops require participants to attend on a specific day, at a specific time, with the added concern of who else might be there. Consultation with the project’s peer educators resulted in changing from group workshops to individual sessions onsite at CNPs with a high level of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients and with no requirement to book in.

A: I think that Community based services have the double edged sword of being in the community. They are more easily accessible, but sometimes “outside beef” ends up in the Service waiting room or program. Seems like you were able to devise an effective work-around. So what were some of the “added extra” positives that have come out of the Project?

C: Two of the Aboriginal peers who we recruited now have ongoing contracts as casual peer educators. We were able to engage two Aboriginal peers as EC It’s Your Right outreach peers while waiting for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander project to commence. To date the peer educators have provided safer injecting education (either in a group workshop or 1-on-1 brief intervention) to ninety-two Aboriginal people who inject drugs. We were also able to engage with a high number of Aboriginal injectors who had not previously accessed our service. This was in part due to an incentive program we had running.

A: Sometimes the “Added Extras” bring so much added value to a project! There’s no way you can factor that in at the beginning. Being able to retain such vital members of the Community within your workplace is phenomenal! So what kind of feedback did you receive from the participants?

C: This is another area where we had some pleasant surprises. We had one attendee who had been around the traps, had been there, done that. They weren’t expecting to learn anything new, but told us they had. This highlights the need to treat this education as ongoing, and the importance of ‘refresher courses’ to get updated and new information out there.

Participants also commented that they enjoyed the peer education sessions and said they were now inspired to become a peer educator. It shows the value of having identified Peers in the workforce and the high level of trust and respect their fellow users have for them.
Our Peer Workers also fed back they recognised participants were providing them with a level of engagement above and beyond what they would with other health professionals. The Participants knew in their hearts we were listening and cared. Participants appreciated someone taking the time to listen to them and they stayed engaged right to the end.

A: That is such a great outcome all around! Sounds like the Project kicked some goals. What I like the most is that it incorporates action and engagement across the entire spectrum of the Community. All voices were heard…. and they felt and knew they were being heard! I’m really looking forward to hearing more about this and other Projects you are working on in SA. Take it easy!
C: Thanks for the conversation! Its great to take the time to look back and reflect on what we have collectively been able to achieve. It re-enforces the fact that Peers make a difference.

For further details, feel free to drop in to Hepatitis SA at 3 Hackney Road, Hackney South Australia 5069 during business hours, give them a call on (08) 8362 8443 or get in touch with Hep SA via their website: https://hepatitissa.asn.au