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Empowering First Nations women to learn about and manage polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)


New, culturally safe, easy-to-understand and beautifully designed resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women by Jean Hailes for Women’s Health and Central Australian Aboriginal Congress

“This project has been a great opportunity to inform Aboriginal women in our community about PCOS, and importantly help them understand that there are things that they can do to help manage the condition,” says Tahnia Edwards, Manager of Central Australian Aboriginal Congress’ (Congress) Alukura Women’s Health Service.

Ms Edwards is referring to an exciting cooperation between Jean Hailes for Women’s Health and Congress funded by the Australian Government. The result of the cooperation? New, free, much needed and easy to understand health information for First Nations communities in the form of unique, engaging brochures, educational kits and animations to recognise and manage symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS affecting 1 in 6 women with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background

PCOS is a hormonal condition that affects one in 10 women and girls in Australia. Regrettably, it’s even more common in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, affecting up to one in six women. To support these women, and their health professionals, Jean Hailes and Congress have listened closely to what women need so they can recognise symptoms associated with PCOS, seek help and manage them.

Symptoms can include irregular periods or no periods, weight gain and increased risk of experiencing anxiety and depression, as well as fertility issues, and chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“It is also an opportunity, particularly for young women, to take control and increase their awareness about PCOS and their bodies. It helps to start the conversation about the condition and let them know they can seek help from their healthcare provider. Especially if Aboriginal women are having trouble becoming pregnant or have concerns about their fertility; they can get the support they need to help them have a baby,” says Ms Edwards.

New, culturally safe brochures and educational kits for women and health professionals

The culturally safe resources feature artwork by Arrernte artist Amunda Gorey, and illustrations by Coolamon Creative, from the Northern Territory. The relatable illustrations reflect the lives, environment and culture of First Nation’s women, while simple explanations replace complex medical information.

The fact that the resources were co-designed by members of a steering group made up of representatives from Congress and Jean Hailes, as well as health professionals and Aboriginal women in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) lets women easily identify with the resources and encourage them to seek help.

“It’s very important for us to have these resources, and even more important to have them in local languages,” says Sabella Turner, Female Lead Aboriginal Cultural Advisor at Congress. “The resources are easy to read and have a simple layout. They have also been checked for cultural safety, so we don’t make people feel shame.”

Enriching and invaluable partnership between Jean Hailes and Congress Alukura

The partnership between Jean Hailes and Congress Alukura was initiated in 2020, when research discovered a lack of resources about PCOS for both Aboriginal women and health professionals.

“It’s been so wonderful to be able to have these resources developed in Central Australia in partnership with Congress, for both health professionals and Aboriginal women in Mparntwe and surrounding communities,” says Renea Camilleri, Women’s Health Week and Community Engagement Manager at Jean Hailes. Earlier this month, Ms Camilleri attended the launch of the resources at the Best Start to Life Conference in Mparntwe.

“The partnership between Jean Hailes and Alukura Women’s Health Service has been enriching and invaluable,” Ms Camilleri said. “Community engagement ensures we can reach priority groups right across Australia, providing all women with trusted and evidence-based health information.”

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