Kootsy, an Associate Professor in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Wellbeing at Flinders University’s Darwin campus, knows all too well the disparity faced by Indigenous men in his community and around Australia.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men have the highest mortality and morbidity rates of anyone in Australia,” he says. “We also have the lowest rates of health service utilisation by a long way, whether in rural or remote areas or in the city.”
Kootsy, who was born and bred in Cairns, Far North Queensland, is a descendant of Mabuiag Island (the Wagadagam clan) in the Torres Strait.
Completing a PhD in 2018, his research focused on the underutilisation of primary health care and the enablers and barriers faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men in using existing services.
Since then, Kootsy set out to improve engagement and utilisation of health services by developing programs specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males.
He says it is a common misconception that Indigenous males are disinterested in their health.
“It’s no wonder men don’t want to go for health check-ups. It’s not suitable for us men,” Kootsy says.
“For most men, we don’t want to watch morning television in the waiting room and sit next to a pile of women’s magazines on the coffee table or play with the kids toys while we’re waiting to see the doctor who is 40 minutes late already.
“At the end of the day, the men still aren’t coming to the health service in desired numbers, so it doesn’t matter what it looks like or how good the health service thinks it is. If the men don’t walk through the front doors, then it’s pointless; they’ve missed the mark.
“We need a collaborate approach to reorient services to better suit men.”
Kooty’s work is supported by a prestigious NHMRC Investigator Grant (2020-2024) aimed at increasing and improving the engagement and quality of primary health care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men.
With the help of findings from his PhD, Kootsy has spent the last few years implementing co-design strategies to bring primary health care services and men in Indigenous communities closer together.
“At the moment we’re holding fortnightly gatherings at a health service in South Australia where the community is provided with access to Aboriginal Health Practitioners, GPs, podiatrists and health information," he says.