The COVID Commission needs at least two dedicated commissioners to represent people experiencing poverty and disadvantage, in an effort to prevent marginalised communities being overlooked in the national pandemic response.
The recommendation is central to a new briefing paper on COVID-19 developed for National Cabinet by the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) and the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS).
Learning From One Pandemic to Live With Another says Australia should learn from previous success tackling HIV, which demanded profound behavioural change, frank and honest health promotion and a strong open partnership between community groups and government to contain the virus, in the absence of a cure or vaccine.
“The current lull in COVID notifications is a wonderful achievement but it has only been possible through enormous effort and sacrifice,” said Darryl O’Donnell, CEO of AFAO.
“We need to make the most of this opportunity to retool and properly empower communities in the COVID containment effort.
“Similar to the HIV epidemic, people with particular vulnerabilities have been hit hardest by the impacts of COVID-19. Older people, those on low incomes, people with chronic disease and people from diverse backgrounds are not being given enough of a say in the health, economic and social responses.
“As we quickly learned in the early days of HIV a one size fits all approach does not work. We needed to work with specific communities to develop different messages and approaches.
Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS, said: “We represent a network of community organisations across the country who are tapped into the needs of their local populations and who are trusted.
“Government needs to work closely with local community leaders so that we are able to sustain containment of the virus over the longer term, especially given a vaccine can not be guaranteed, and to support a community-led economic and social recovery. Empowered communities can mobilise behaviour change, prevent panic and confront stigma.
“It is vital that the voice of people who are most at risk of all the impacts of COVID-19 are on the inside of the COVID Commission. It is not appropriate to separate out advice regarding economic recovery from the health and social risks of communities.
“We’re calling on the Federal Government forge a strong open partnership with community leaders particularly representing those most at risk. The Federal Government should immediately consult with community sector and First Nations peak bodies to identify candidates for the Commission,” Dr Goldie said.
As well as dedicated COVID Commissioners, the report calls for:
- The immediate establishment of a Community Partnership Group to work closely with the Federal Government. It would comprise community leaders representing vulnerable and marginalised communities tasked with highlighting specific needs and providing rapid feedback to government messaging and policies.
- Formal health promotion and education strategies for specific hard to reach and at-risk populations must be developed in partnership with local communities and driven by data and evidence.
- Targeted funding for community organisations representing key population groups to deliver peer-led health promotion and education to their own communities.
The report also recommends this community partnership approach be embedded at a state and territory level and that political leaders engage and use the skills of relevant community peaks and representative organisations in shaping health, economic and social policy and responses.
Nick Lucchinelli AFAO 0422 229 032
Monique Vandeleur ACOSS 0419 626 155
Read the briefing paper:
201104 AFAO ACOSS HIV and COVID-19