Closing the cancer gap

An Aboriginal research leader dedicated to “closing the gap” through cancer research has won the 2016 Bupa Health Foundation’s Emerging Health Research Awards. Associate Professor Gail Garvey opens up the personal drive behind her cause, and her determination to make a difference. 

Associate Professor Gail Garvey’s passion and drive comes from a place very close to her heart.

“The thing that has had the most impact on me was my sister-in-law. She kept going to the hospital because she had lower back pain, she was constantly going back and forth.”

Her sister in law was sent home from hospital time and time again with painkillers. She was finally diagnosed with late stage cervical cancer just a few days before she passed away.

“They thought she was just going in there for the pain medication,” she says. “For Indigenous people to access the same quality of care as other people, it’s a struggle.”

Garvey’s mother has been impacted by cancer too.

“Five years ago my mum was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She kept going to the GP and they diagnosed her with reflux. Her cancer wasn’t picked up for more than a year after she first went to the GP complaining of stomach issues.”

Garvey is now dedicating her life to medical research, to help address some of the issues driving a wedge between health outcomes for Indigenous Australians, compared to non-Indigenous Australians.

She says there’s work to be done on every level, from tackling discrimination against Indigenous Australians, to educating and empowering indigenous communities to play a greater role in their own health outcomes.

“The research that I do is broadly in the area of health services research, and trying to improve the systems to get better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she says.

In particular she’s looking at ways to prevent the issues early on, like encouraging more cancer screening in Indigenous communities, and encouraging greater participation by Indigenous Australians.

Her work has been so impressive, she’s been announced as the winner of the 2016 Bupa Health Foundation’s Emerging Health Researcher awards.

The prize comes with $20 000 to put towards furthering her research. 

“It’s sort of like winning the lottery. But it’s more than just the money because it highlights the importance of Indigenous health."
 
“I hope it’s going to help keep cancer and Indigenous people high on the agenda. It’s going to be another way of trying to illustrate and demonstrate to the wider community that cancer is indeed an issue that needs to be addressed.”'
 
She was nominated for the award by her PhD supervisor Professor Joan Cunningham.
 
“Cancer is the second leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said. “It accounts for more deaths than diabetes and kidney disease every year, but until recently it just wasn’t on people’s radar and Gail has been a key driver in changing that.”
 
The Bupa Health Foundation is one of the country’s leading private charitable organisations dedicated to health. The Foundation has invested almost $30 million since it started in 2005, supporting more than 100 projects to improve the health and wellbeing of Australians. 
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