Earlier this week, we celebrated the work
of the women and men who participated in the on-the-ground service delivery of
the groundbreaking National Trachoma and Eye Health Program. The article
focused on the work of two women, Jilpia Nappaljari Jones and Rose Murray, who
worked in one of the multidisciplinary teams that methodically covered most of
Australia, for screening and treatment
of trachoma and other eye conditions.
Today, RANZCO is celebrating the work of
Naomi Mayers OAM, a leader and advocate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people’s rights, whose contributions to health, including eye health, are immeasurable.
In 1957, as a teenager, Mayers started
working for the Aborigines Advancement League, one of the earliest Aboriginal
organisations, which advocated for equal rights in Australia.
After moving to Sydney, Mayers was active
in a number of breakthrough projects in the Aboriginal community in Redfern. Mayers joined the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service in 1972, the first Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Service in Australia, following its establishment in the previous year.
In 1976, Mayers co-founded and became the convenor of
the National Aboriginal and Islander Health Organisation (NAIHO), an umbrella
organisation of Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Services throughout
Australia, the predecessor of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled
Health Organisation (NACCHO).
Mayers’ vision for the Community-Controlled
Health Services model has shaped the movement in its development, and from the
early days of Redfern, emphasised the importance of genuine grassroots control
over external administration. These principles were at the heart of
establishing the NSW Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council (AHMRC) in
1983, and when she Chaired the committee developing the National Aboriginal
Health Strategy (1989).
In her capacity as the convenor of NAIHO,
Mayers was heavily involved with coordinating the involvement of AMSs around
the country in the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program. From November 1981
to January 1982, Mayers was employed by the Royal Australian College of
Ophthalmologists (RACO, a predecessor to RANZCO) as an Aboriginal Advisor to
the Trachoma and Eye Health Committee of the College, in a 10-week contract. In
her role, Mayers travelled throughout the country to meet with AMSs and other
local organisations about the Trachoma Program, and wrote a detailed report
with recommendations for the next phase of the Program.
In the report, Mayers write under the
Statement of Principle section:
“The past ten years have seen the establishment and
consolidation of the basic principle in Aboriginal Affairs, as being the fundamental
necessity for Aboriginal people to assume control of any programmes which are
intended to be of benefit to their community.
"In the area of Aboriginal health, the application of
this principle has been most dramatically illustrated with the development and
proliferation of “community controlled” Aboriginal Medical Services.
"The success of A.M.S.’s is living prof that, given the
opportunity, Aboriginal people are not only perfectly capable of controlling
their own affairs, but, given adequate resources, are capable of radically
omproving their own health situation to a far greater extent that has yet been
achieved by “white” initiated and controlled programmes. There is extensive
evidence available which proves that aboriginal people will respond more
positively to an Aboriginal controlled health programme than one which is run
by white people. Indeed, this is recognised by the present Federal Government,
the Prime Minister of which [Malcolm Fraser] has stated, “the Government is determined to
see a substantial improvement in the health status of Aboriginals. To this end,
we are totally determined to se a substantial and increasing degree of
Aboriginal involvement in, and control of, the design, control, management,
delivery and evaluation of health services provided to them.
Consequently, the same principle must be
applied to any programme which is intended to “focus” on the eye health of
Naomi Mayers’ work had deep, long-lasting
impact in shaping Aboriginal health policy and practice over the past 50 years.
Her influence and dedication to the model of community-control and grassroots
ownership continues to resonate today.
Because of her, we can!
RANZCO Policy Manager