Working as a youth mentor in his early career, Seth Westhead developed a strong sense of the health and well-being priorities of young Indigenous Australians.
Now as co-lead of the Adolescent Health Group in Wardliparingga, SAHMRI’s Aboriginal Health Equity theme, he’s working with colleagues to collect evidence and create positive change.
“Support for mental health, addressing racism and discrimination, access to education, health services and employment; these were the big issues then and still now,” Seth says.
Seth and the Adolescent Health team at Wardliparingga are leading the development of the first national strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescent health.
“It’s important to focus on this age group so we can provide support to young people before health crisis or chronic disease have a chance to become established,” Seth says.
“But marching in and trying to tell them what they should and shouldn’t do won’t work – young people have to be a part of the process.”
The strategy focuses on people aged 10-24.
“We’re asking Indigenous youth what they really want and need to support their health and wellbeing,” says Seth.
“We find they engage really well using online platforms.”
Once the survey work is complete, the evidence gathered will help create better, more accessible health and well-being services for young Indigenous people.
Underpinning Seth’s work is a strong belief in youth governance.
“Young people have a fundamental right to be involved in things that impact them,” Seth says.
“Different from youth participation, youth governance brings young people and decision-makers to the table as equal partners, and allows young people to have control and decision-making capacity.”
As well as the national strategy, the Adolescent Health Group in SAHMRI’s Wardliparingga is a partner in Indigenous health projects in New South Wales and Queensland and a global Indigenous health collective.
Geographic separation doesn’t stop the various Indigenous research leaders from working together for a common good.
“Zoom is my best friend,” Seth says.
But local connections are also vital, particularly when it comes to implementing programs on the ground.
“In a way, at SAHMRI we act as a kind of bridge between people and governments working in health and support policy and services, and the youth themselves,” says Seth.
In addition to Adolescent Health & Wellbeing, research programs in Wardliparingga cover sexual health and wellbeing, population health and cardiometabolic diseases such as diabetes, stroke, heart attack and liver disease.
A capacity development program trains the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Researchers, and other programs aim to ensure research outcomes are translated into practical changes for better face-to-face healthcare. Action on social determinants of health such as housing and access to services is also prioritised.
Seth thinks most people don’t realise the breadth of work that goes in on the SAHMRI building.
“Not everyone knows South Australia is a leader in Indigenous health,” he says.
“We can be proud of SAHMRI for this work; it’s really important.”
Wardliparingga operates with and alongside SAHMRI’s other research themes – Lifelong Health, Women & Kids and Precision Cancer Medicine – to find better ways to treat, heal and care for people.
Every day, Seth and SAHMRI colleagues make use of the building’s desks and laboratory spaces, research areas, meeting rooms and vital infrastructure to conduct research that is informed by the latest knowledge and technology. They travel in and out of the building to work with hospitals, pathology services and patients to ensure their research is connected to real clinical care.
In addition to people, SAHMRI also houses essential resources and infrastructure that service South Australia, including technology and tools to support research and produce diagnostics, registries to track health data and trends, and centres to translate research into policy and effective health responses, including for COVID-19.
SAHMRI is South Australia’s independent, not-for-profit health and medical research institute. Its primary reason for being is to provide service to the community.
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