Indigenous health pioneers working to overcome inequity

Rudi Maxwell |

Childhood experiences alongside his nurse mother inspired Kelvin Kong to study medicine.
Childhood experiences alongside his nurse mother inspired Kelvin Kong to study medicine.

As a child Kelvin Kong used to help his mum, a nurse, dress wounds and take out stitches and perform other medical procedures on extended family members who would drop in to their home.

When at high school, he realised his non-Indigenous friends would visit a doctor for the same reasons.

It was that early exposure to health care that inspired the Worimi man to study medicine.

Dr Kong, from the University of Newcastle’s School of Medicine and Public Health, is now an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) and head and neck surgeon.

“I’m extremely humbled to to be able to help communities and certainly when you look at the disparities in ear disease in our nation, it is appalling,” he told AAP.

For his significant service to Indigenous health, Dr Kong is appointed a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia on Thursday.

 “I see this as an opportunity to shed more light on the critical issues around our country between the haves and have-nots,” he said. 

“And I strongly believe that every child in this country, no matter who you are, no matter what your postcode, should have equal access to opportunity.

“Part of that opportunity is having access to making sure you can hear, making sure you get an education and making sure you can have dreams and be whatever you want to be.”

Kamilaroi woman Gail Garvey is also appointed an AM for her service to Indigenous health.

Professor Gail Garvey's cancer research honoured.
Gail Garvey left teaching for cancer research after the death of a family member. (HANDOUT/University of Queensland)

She began her career as a teacher but moved into cancer research after her sister-in-law died from undiagnosed cervical cancer, having been turned away from hospital on multiple occasions.

Her research with Aboriginal communities has meant not only closing the gap in how many Indigenous people actually access the national bowel cancer screening program, but also changed the way the preventative initiative is addressed in the broader community.

“We’ve been able to change the research agenda, now we can co-design research that we’re doing with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said.

“It’s required leadership and I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to do that supported by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities and non-Indigenous colleagues as well.”

Prof Garvey is a National Health and Medical Research Council leadership fellow and Indigenous health researcher at the University of Queensland.

The two professors have worked together researching cancer and both have a deep commitment to improving health equity for Indigenous people. 

They are among a number of Australians named on the Honours List for their services to Indigenous communities.

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