ANU Bushfire Impact Team to be awarded the Sidney Sax Medal

Sidney Sax Medal

The Sidney Sax Medal is awarded for outstanding contributions to the development and improvement of Australian healthcare.

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) has announced it will jointly award the 2020 Sidney Sax medal for outstanding contributions to the development and improvement of Australian healthcare to the Australian National University (ANU) College of Health and Medicine's Bushfire Impact Working Group, and to Patricia Turner, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).

During the 2019-20 bushfires, the ANU College of Health and Medicine's Bushfire Impact Working Group, chaired by Professor Robyn Lucas and Dr Arnagretta Hunter, was established to respond to the immediate needs of the community, as well as to the medium to long term recovery, prevention and preparation efforts for future bushfire seasons. Resources and information were made available on the physical and mental health effects of bushfires and bushfire smoke. Multiple research projects were initiated to study the health and health systems effects of fire and smoke, including the measurement and assessment of air quality, effects on lung function, and medium to long term impact related to pregnancy and children. Primary health capabilities were supported in communities in the ACT and South Coast NSW. This work has had wide impact, including on the recommendations and findings of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact Australia's health system and communities, Patricia Turner, Chief Executive of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, played a significant leadership role in ensuring that the Prime Minister, state premiers and chief ministers took urgent action to protect communities, closing down access and prioritising safety to prevent community transmission of COVID-19. Ensuring that governments worked in partnership with communities, and placing culture at the heart of preventative measures, were key to successfully keeping communities safe. In comparison to the devastating incidence of COVID-19 in Indigenous communities abroad, rates of COVID-19 in First Nations peoples in Australia remain proportionately lower than the rest of the population. This successful model of community leadership will have long-term positive impact for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities working in partnership with governments.

'The AHHA commends and thanks the award winners for their leadership and their proactive response to the bushfires and the pandemic,' says AHHA Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven.

'They stand alongside many thousands of people working in the health and aged care sector who have made substantial contributions to protecting the health and wellbeing of Australians this year. Importantly, the contributions of both the ANU Bushfire Impact Working Group and NACCHO CEO Patricia Turner will continue to make Australia a better, safer and healthier country for all its residents.'

The 2020 Sidney Sax awards will be presented by AHHA Board Chair, the Hon Jillian Skinner, at a ceremony at the Australian National University on Tuesday 8 December. The ANU Bushfire Impact Working Group and Patricia Turner will present their work at this public event. Registration details for both physical and virtual attendance is available online.

This article was originally published by the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA). The AHHA is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, Primary Health Networks, and community and primary healthcare services. 

Media contact: Alison Verhoeven, AHHA Chief Executive, 0403 282 501

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