Disruptions are not uncommon on Badu Island, one of the largest islands in the Torres Strait. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the Torres Strait went into lockdown in line with the rest of the country, and locals were encouraged not to travel between islands.Charlotte Nona, the director of Queensland Regional Health in the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula, says there is only one frontline health worker for the entire population on Badu.“We have more patients per capita with chronic disease here, so it is not realistically sufficient to provide sufficient care,” she says.
Charlotte Nona, with her granddaughter Sunny, 9 months, at her home on Badu Island. Charlotte is the Director of Primary Health Care in Torres Strait.
When, in early April, the federal government announced that the AstraZeneca vaccine not be given to people under 50, the planned vaccination program for the Torres Strait was immediately suspended. With 80% of the population in the Torres Strait under 50 years old, the suspension was understandable, yet it was another change in policy for locals to understand.“English is a third language for many people here,” Nona says.A perceived lack of ongoing community engagement and cultural awareness has raised concerns about how the Covid-19 vaccine rollout program will be received on Badu, when it eventually takes place.“If you want good outcomes in these communities, you need to first and foremost build trust, and to build trust you need to come in at least one or two weeks ahead.”“You really need to do health promotion, one-to-one health education with the people, and have community meetings. We can make things work here but you really need to have the conversations with the people.”Horace Ngagalaig is solidly built, and at 60 his years of crayfish diving, hunting and playing football are evident. Ngagalaig was raised on Badu Island and now works in Brisbane providing cultural care for Torres Strait Islanders and other Indigenous people who travel to the mainland for specialist medical care.“The gap between community consultation and any vaccine rollout is reassurance. It’s the same when they come to the hospital and they are not in their own community. They will always look to the Indigenous person to become a supportive voice for that reassurance.”Ngagalaig has first-hand experience rolling out a vaccine program in the Torres Strait. In 1995 an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis hit the region.“We had people die from it, but we had time to sit with people before the vaccination came. People were able to absorb all the information, and the health workers were also getting the vaccination to show that it worked.”“But this one is so quick. We had a lot more information back then, but people forget that it was rolled it out from a primary healthcare model with locals on the ground.”Ngagalaig and Nona say sustained, locally delivered health education is vital to any vaccination program.“Yarning is important because you have to get that information as well as give it, it takes time to observe that information, understand it and ask questions,” Nona says.“You can’t come in and just expect people to trust you if you are a stranger.”“With the boys, we know that football and traditional hunting [of dugong and turtle] are big things. So we can use those topics of conversation.”“The yarning could be about something else, but it’s about integrating the health information into that process, and then the questions will be asked.”Ngagalaig recently travelled to Badu Island for a tombstone revealing ceremony, one of the most important ceremonies in Torres Strait culture. With widespread travel restrictions within Australian in 2020, many of these important cultural ceremonies were postponed.“We might be at a tombstone revealing ceremony or a funeral but after, when we are sitting around having a yarn, we are asking questions and consulting with each other about potential issues.”After two delayed vaccine rollouts, the Queensland Health Department has now said it will hold information sessions on Badu prior to the Pfizer vaccine being delivered.
Victor Nona, 80, a Badu Island elder, has a cup of coffee before a feast celebrating the tombstone revealing ceremony for his wife’s grave.
Dr Tony Brown, the executive director of medical services for the Torres Strait and Cape York, says it’s vital to reach out to each community and provide them with “clear information and advice about the vaccines, the risks and benefits associated with them and anything else our communities might want to know prior to restarting the vaccination program.”Charlotte Nona remains positive that the rollout can be delivered with success.“We can make things work here but you really need to have the conversations with the people.“Just not with the expectation that you come in on the Monday, and provide sessions to the community, and then you do the rollout after lunch. It doesn’t work like that.”
The Chinese foreign ministry has issued a stern rebuke after Philippines’ foreign minister ordered Beijing’s vessels to “get the f**k out” of Manila’s waters. Beijing says Huangyan Island is Chinese territory.
Speaking on Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that the Huangyan Island (known in Philippines as Panatag Shoal) and the nearby sea were under China’s jurisdiction and urged Manila to respect Beijing’s sovereignty over the unpopulated landmass. Wang stated that microphone diplomacy cannot change the facts that this island belongs to China, after Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin told Beijing, in a tweet, to “get the f**k out” of what Manila considers to be its territory.China’s spokesman said it is hoped that the relevant people, a probable reference to Locsin, “will comply with the basic etiquette and identity when making their remarks,” when asked by a journalist about the “dirty” language used by Manila.Wang said that Beijing also hopes that such differences and contradictions between the two countries on individual issues will not impact friendship and cooperation. “China has always and will continue to work with the Philippines to properly resolve differences and promote cooperation through friendly consultations and continue to provide assistance to the Philippines within its capacity in fighting the epidemic and restoring the economy,” the spokesman noted.
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‘GET THE F**K OUT’: Philippines foreign secretary issues not-so-diplomatic request to China amid maritime dispute
Wang’s comment came after Locsin’s fiery remarks on Twitter on Monday. “China, my friend, how politely can I put it? Let me see… O…GET THE F**K OUT. What are you doing to our friendship? You. Not us. We’re trying. You. You’re like an ugly oaf forcing your attentions on a handsome guy who wants to be a friend; not to father a Chinese province,” the foreign secretary tweeted.Locsin’s tweet came after a statement by his country’s foreign affairs department, which protested the “illegal presence” of Chinese ships in parts of the South China Sea, called the Luzon Sea in the Philippines and recognized by the Hague court as belonging to Manila. Huangyan Island, also known as the Scarborough Shoal, sits about 230 kilometers from the Philippines and 650 kilometers from the nearest part of China. Recently, Manila informed Beijing of its discontent after 220 Chinese vessels moored in the Julian Felipe Reef, also known as the Whitsun Reef, citing bad weather, but did not leave when requested. Manila says the reef falls within its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).Islands and reefs within the South China Sea are hotly contested between China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Brunei.Like this story? Share it with a friend!