First Nations-led projects funded for COVID-19 research

The Paul Ramsay Foundation committed $2million to support APPRISE COVID-19 research with First Nations peoples. Through a unique funding allocation process led by First Nations researchers, we are pleased to announce the following projects have been selected for funding.

Developing a culturally responsive trauma-informed public health emergency response framework for First Nations families and communities during COVID-19

Lead investigator: Professor Catherine Chamberlain – University of Melbourne, Vic

This project aims to use our knowledge of trauma to inform best-practice responses to COVID-19.

While the research will draw on data from First Nations people from around Australia, it will also investigate how increased fear and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic may compound distress relating to pre-existing trauma in the general population.


  • Michelle Kennedy, Tess Bright, Simon Graham, Christina Heris, Shannon K. Bennetts, Renee Fiolet, Elise Davis, Kimberley A Jones, Janine Mohamed, Caroline Atkinson, Catherine Chamberlain, “You can’t replace that feeling of connection to culture and country”: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Parents’ experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2022, 19(24), 16724. DOI:
  • Simon Graham, Ilias Kamitsis, Michelle Kennedy, Christina Heris, Tess Bright, Shannon K Bennetts, Kimberley A Jones, Renee Fiolet, Janine Mohamed, Caroline Atkinson, Catherine Chamberlain, A culturally responsive trauma-informed public health emergency framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities in Australia, developed during COVID-19, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2022, 19(23), 15626. DOI:
  • Christina L Heris, Michelle Kennedy, Simon Graham, Shannon K Bennetts, Caroline Atkinson, Janine Mohamed, Cindy Woods, Richard Chennall, Catherine Chamberlain, Key features of a trauma-informed public health emergency approach: A rapid review, Frontiers in Public Health, published 28 November 2020. DOI:

Download the flyer for the “Healing the past by nurturing the future” project 

Preventing COVID transmission by equipping frail dialysis patients with culturally appropriate COVID-safe practices to avoid unplanned hospitalisations in the Top End

Lead investigators: Associate Professor Jaquelyne Hughes; Ms Onika Paolucci, Menzies School of Health Research, NT

The project will:

  • describe how staff and patients work together to achieve COVID-safe practices to use at home and at dialysis, and learn from clients about other ways they live strong and COVID-safe
  • improve detection of frailty and assess change in frailty in the first few months after starting dialysis
  • count days spent in health care at the Royal Darwin Hospital campus and dialysis units in the first year after starting dialysis.


  • Sara Zabeen, Anne-Marie Eades (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander), Onika Paolucci (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander), Richard Modderman, Clee Tonkin, Kerry Dole, Gwendoline Lowah (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander), Kirsty Annesley, Jacqueline Kent, Emidio Coccetti, Anne Weldon, Matthias Jing, Deborah Roe, Rebecca Jarman, Anne-Marie Puruntatameri (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and Indigenous Patient Reference Group member), Edna May Wittkopp (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and Indigenous Patient Reference Group member), Wayne Alum (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and Indigenous Patient Reference Group member), Tolbert Dharromanba Gaykamangu (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and Indigenous Patient Reference Group member), Jaquelyne T. Hughes (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander), Evaluation of an innovative Live Strong COVID-mitigating healthcare delivery for adults after starting dialysis in the Northern Territory: A qualitative study, First Nations Health and Wellbeing – The Lowitja Journal, Volume 1, 2023, 100001. DOI:

Read more about this project

Using systems thinking to better understand risks and protective factors at play for urban Indigenous peoples during COVID-19

Lead investigator: Professor Bronwyn Fredericks, University of Queensland, Qld

This project aims to improve Indigenous health and well-being using a Systems Perspective. COVID-19 is a risk to any community; however urban Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable because of the characteristics of the social systems that support their health. The project will use a systems-thinking approach to uncover an operational view of the dynamics of this complex system. It will bring together multidisciplinary stakeholders from relevant disciplines including health and community organisations (including Hospital and Health Services’s and Community Controlled Health Centres), education and communication representatives, housing, and research representatives.

Three professionally facilitated workshops will deliver a holistic picture and systems maps showing both high-level cause-and-effect factors as well as actionable levers and unintended consequences. It is intended that the outputs will provide insights that assist targeted policymaking and will serve as a basis for Indigenous communities around Australia to address socio-cultural vulnerabilities and risk factors in the face of pandemics.

Study aims include:

  • to understand urban indigenous social systems and how they expose, mitigate, or protect urban indigenous communities during pandemics
  • to formally develop a causal understanding of this system
  • to develop a list of policy-oriented action steps
  • to translate the outcomes to other indigenous communities
  • to promote intersectoral action to tackle the social determinants of health that affect COVID-19 response and prevention.


  • Professor Bronwyn Fredericks, Dr Sue McAvoy, Professor James Ward, Troy Combo, Shea Spierings, Agnes Toth-Peter, Dr Abraham Bradfield. Using systems thinking to better understand risks and protective factors for urban Indigenous peoples during COVID-19, Final report published December 2021. Access here.
  • Bronwyn Fredericks, Abraham Bradfield, Sue McAvoy, James Ward, Shea Spierings, Troy Combo, and Agnes Toth-Peter. The Burden of the Beast: Countering Conspiracies and Misinformation Within Indigenous Communities in Australia, M/C Journal 25 (1) 2022. DOI:
  • Bronwyn Fredericks, Abraham Bradfield, James Ward, Sue McAvoy, Shea Spierings, Agnes Toth-Peter, Troy Combo. Mapping pandemic responses in urban Indigenous Australia: Reflections on systems thinking and pandemic preparedness, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Volume 47, Issue 5, October 2023, 100084. DOI:
  • Bronwyn Fredericks, Abraham Bradfield, James Ward, Shea Spierings, Sue McAvoy, Troy Combo, Agnes Toth-Peter. ‘We know what our communities need’: What the Indigenous health sector reveals about pandemic preparedness in urban Indigenous communities in Australia, First Nations Health and Wellbeing – The Lowitja Journal, Volume 2, June 05, 2024. DOI:

A culturally specific overcrowding guideline for COVID-19 pandemic planning, response and recovery in remote Kimberley communities

Lead investigator: Mr Ray Christophers – Nirrumbuk, WA

The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic acknowledged overcrowding as a social determinant exacerbating risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Culturally appropriate ways to think about, manage and address housing occupancy and its health consequences are essential. Nirrumbuk Environmental Health & Services is an Aboriginal community-controlled service with many decades’ experience in serving remote communities of the Kimberley.

This mixed-methods project will ensure Aboriginal experience directly determines the conceptualisation, validation and ongoing use of a culturally specific guideline to address remote housing occupancy, overcrowding and health preventive practices in ongoing COVID-19 preparedness, response and recovery. In three sites in the Kimberley, Nirrumbuk Environmental Health & Services will consult with community to initiate discussions about lived experience and overcrowding. By combining qualitative and quantitative methods, a Guideline with measurement modules will be produced. Kimberley-wide results will be shared and this Guideline disseminated for local use in pandemic planning.


Chicky Clements, Christine Hoy, Louis Bin-Maarus, Sarah Morris, Ray Christophers. Aboriginal peoples’ lived experience of household overcrowding in the Kimberley and implications for research reciprocity in COVID-19 recovery. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Volume 47, Issue 6, December 2023, 100104. DOI:

Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic

Lead investigator: Dr Margaret Raven, Professor Ilan Katz, University of New South Wales, NSW

This project involves case studies of four Aboriginal communities in NSW and WA, a survey of Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Organisations and a survey of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The project will:

  1. investigate factors that promoted community resilience and the rapid and effective community responses to COVID-19 in Aboriginal communities
  2. examine how these responses were activated and the processes for sustaining individual and community wellbeing over the pandemic and beyond
  3. study the governance arrangements and engagement with Aboriginal organisations, other NGOs and government agencies and the barriers and facilitating factors in community mobilisation.

The impacts of the project include:

  • learning which processes have and have not worked for Aboriginal peoples and supporting the resilience of Aboriginal communities to respond to the pandemic and its aftermath, including the social and economic impacts on the communities
  • using this understanding to support other communities to better respond to adverse ‘shocks’ including natural disasters, and economic adversity
  • raising the profile of Indigenous self determination through a demonstration of how Indigenous governance and Aboriginal-led service provision can provide solutions to challenging social problems.

TeleHealth use in Cape York Communities – in response to COVID-19 travel restrictions

Lead investigator: Professor Yvonne Cadet-James, Apunipima Cape York Health Council, QLD

This project aims to develop a framework for an effective, efficient and cost-effective Telehealth Service in Cape York Communities, not only for future pandemics but for usual day to day patient care.

This is an Indigenous-led project in collaboration with communities in Cape York. Qualitative data will be gained from community members and Apunipima staff regarding their experience with Telehealth. Questions will focus on community member and staff member confidence in using Telehealth, type of consultations, privacy and confidentiality, cultural considerations, facilities and equipment, connectivity and staff training. A cost analysis will be conducted to identify total costs of infrastructure and training for an effective working system in Cape York Communities. Once the framework is developed, Apunipima will collaborate with communities regarding the outcome and recommendations.

First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response: Harnessing the evidence from an urban First Nations health ecosystem to inform ongoing response, recovery and health system adaptation

Lead investigator: Professor James Ward, Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH), Qld

Focussed on First Nations-led responses in an urban context, the project aims to:

  1. identify how an Indigenous-led approach compares and contrasts with mainstream and international First Nation responses and outcomes, primarily through comprehensive literature review
  2. prepare a strategy for, and undertake if circumstances determine, the documentation of the First Few Cases should an outbreak occur in South East Queensland among urban Indigenous peoples
  3. investigate, through detailed case studies, key aspects of service planning, response, and reorientation; and community activation achieved during the current pandemic
  4. identify strengths and gaps of the overall pandemic response within a large, urban regional Community Controlled Health Service network, using systems thinking methods
  5. support the development and advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers is an integral component of all research conducted through the Urban Indigenous Health / Poche collaboration, with training, mentoring and technical assistance structured to support transfer of knowledge and skills, along with career development for early First Nations researchers in particular.

This project will deliver:

  1. an in-depth understanding of the critical success factors, any exigent challenges and key learnings from a large urban Indigenous health ecosystem pandemic response, with relevance for this and future pandemics as well as more broadly, for health system (both Indigenous-specific and mainstream) understanding, development and improvement
  2. practical tools and resources for dissemination, adaptation and adoption
  3. advancement of individual and collective First Nations research knowledge, skills and career development.

Pandemic health messaging for Indigenous peoples during COVID-19

Lead investigator: Mr Shea Spierings, University of Queensland, Qld

The aim of this project is to gain an understanding of how COVID-19 health messaging has been shared and understood among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia and determine best practice in the longer term during the COVID-19 pandemic. Information gathered throughout this study will also be used to inform future pandemic health messaging for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Project objectives are to investigate:

  • how COVID-19 pandemic health messaging has communicated risks associated with COVID-19 to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • where community members access health messaging regarding COVID-19
  • community members’ perspectives on the effectiveness of long-term health messaging during COVID-19 pandemic
  • strategies for future long-term responses to COVID-19 is an effective tool
  • vaccine hesitancy and vaccine uptake amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Revisiting the ‘Gambling Bug’ during COVID isolation: Developing and evaluating a holistic Aboriginal public health awareness strategy to improve service access and wellbeing in a rural and urban Australian setting

Lead investigators: Dr Paul Saunders  and Professor Aunty Kerrie Doyle, School of Medicine and the Translational Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, NSW

The project aims to develop a public health strategy to increase awareness around problem gambling and its dissociation with Indigenous culture. The project will look to develop and evaluate a community-driven public health intervention based on the narratives of those with problem gambling behaviours within Indigenous communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is planned to operate in one regional and one urban setting within New South Wales, providing an insight into the impacts of COVID-19 on problem gambling for Indigenous communities in a range of environments. The research will employ an Indigenist approach, considering the complex socio-cultural factors contributing to the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in problem gambling statistics.

The experiences of using telehealth in rural and regional Victorian ACCOs during COVID-19: perspectives from health service managers, clinic staff and patients

Lead investigator: Mr Dallas Widdicombe, Bendigo & District Aboriginal Co-operative (VIC)

The aim of the project is to explore Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation (ACCO) medical staff and patient perceptions of primary care health appointments via telehealth during COVID-19.

This is an Aboriginal-led project involving collaboration between Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative (BDAC), Njernda Aboriginal Corporation (Echuca), Mallee District Aboriginal Services (Mildura, Swan Hill, Kerang), and Murray Valley Aboriginal Co-operative (Robinvale). The first stage of the research will involve interviewing ACCO medical staff, including general practitioners, health service managers, nurses, and Aboriginal health workers. In the second stage Aboriginal community members that access ACCO services will be interviewed.

Key research questions:

  • How does primary health care via telehealth during COVID-19 compare to pre-COVID-19 experiences of primary health care?
  • What have been the barriers and challenges to using telehealth during COVID-19?
  • What have been the benefits of using telehealth during COVID-19?
  • What healthcare is better-delivered in person?
  • What are the financial impacts of telehealth during COVID-19?
  • How has telehealth fitted within wider COVID-19 experiences?
  • What aspects of telehealth should be available on an ongoing basis, post COVID-19?

The findings from this project will guide the development of ongoing service provision within Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative, Mallee District Aboriginal Services, Murray Valley Aboriginal Co-operative and Njernda Aboriginal co-operative during and post COVID-19. Findings will also inform advocacy for ACCO and Aboriginal community needs in a fast-changing telehealth policy and service provision environment.

Read more about the $2 million committed by the Paul Ramsay Foundation to support COVID-19 research with First Nations peoples.