Today (17 November 2023) is World Cervical Cancer Elimination Day when countries reflect on their commitment to address this preventable disease which takes the lives of thousands of women around the world each year.
In Australia, the rate of cervical cancer among women is amongst the lowest in the world due to effective screening, but rural and remote women in Australia continue to experience poorer access to screening, and a higher risk of illness and death compared to women, and people born female, living in regional and metropolitan cities.
This is because of a lack of access to basic health care services in rural and remote towns, and lower health literacy due to poorer access to education.
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, services are sometimes not culturally safe and inclusive because they have been designed by people who do not necessarily understand the different values, needs and conditions of people living on different countries.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer than non-Aboriginal women, and four times more likely to die.
To address this challenge, the Healthy Communities Foundation Australia has applied for a grant to establish an integrated mobile women's health service in rural NSW to deliver a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services using qualified health professionals including Aboriginal Health Workers.
"While various mobile services, such as cervical screening and breast screening, are accessible to rural and remote women they can be fragmented and sporadic. This is partly because these are "outreach" services designed and delivered by people from regional and metropolitan cities, not by women who live in rural and remote communities" said Mel Press, clinical coordinator for the planned Rural and Remote Women's Mobile Health Clinic at the Foundation.
"Our goal is to turn the current model on its head. What rural, remote and Aboriginal women want is a service that is delivered by women who live in rural and remote Australian communities. We have this pool of talented and qualified rural, remote and Aboriginal women who struggle to get jobs in their chosen profession because many of the services are delivered from the regional and metropolitan cities.
"This wastes the talent available in rural and remote areas, and can mean that money intended for rural and remote healthcare goes to the cities, and does not stay in the bush where it belongs.
"By utilising women who live in rural and remote communities to deliver women's health care, we can ensure that services reflect the unique needs and experiences of rural and remote women and girls, and people born female, and that services are culturally safe" said Ms Press.
The Foundation has employed a clinical coordinator to work with rural, remote and Aboriginal women to design the service, and is currently working with Marathon Health to train a number of new rural and remote Aboriginal Health Workers who would be perfect candidates for employment when they complete their qualifications at the end of the year.
The Foundation could have this transformative service up and running by January 2024 if it is successful in securing funding support. The Foundation has already received requests for access to improved women’s health care from local government and community organisations in multiple locations.
The Foundation's CEO Mark Burdack said: "This is a local solution designed by local people to address a local challenge. As with all initiatives supported by the Foundation, the model will be designed by women, and people born female, to meet their needs and give women who live in rural and remote towns opportunities for employment that will stimulate rural economic development".