The Purple House in Alice Springs is usually a wonderful crazy place. People from remote communities come in for dialysis, to do their washing, to cook a kangaroo tail on the fire, to see a podiatrist or a physiotherapist. There’s singing, dancing, guitar playing and lots of cooking. It’s like a big, joyful drop-in centre.
This week it is eerily quiet, and a whole lot of work has gone into making it so. Our front door has a sign that says “Patients only, no visitors” and there’s hand sanitiser at the door.
Everyone has quickly become obsessed with hand hygiene and I am working really hard not to reach out to hug or comfort people when they are upset.
The dialysis continues and the social support team is out and about, checking on people in hostels and town camps, delivering soap, washing powder, tissues and healthy food. There is a sense of quiet before a storm.
This week we published a video in language, in Pintupi. We produced it in 24 hours. It had no budget, but we got it made and we shared it widely to help our communities understand what is going on, what we all need to do, and why.
There was a rush as we got news last week that the borders were closing and communities would be locked down. The rush was to get as many dialysis patients and their families back out bush where there is currently no virus. This becomes more complicated when you need dialysis three times a week to stay alive.
There is a lot of confusion out there.
How do we replace nurses when they are exhausted and support them from a distance? How do we relieve them given the quarantining regulations? When will our nurses who are overseas be able to return to us, and how can we possibly recruit staff at this time?
Do we have enough medical supplies? When will our orders of face masks and other protective equipment be supplied?
What will happen if or when there is a positive case in a community and the flying doctors and hospitals are so overwhelmed that we are told that we need to just try to do the very best we can for people?
There is distrust of the government based on generations of botched policies and draconian measures. The restrictions on social gatherings, on funerals, on meetings have turned communities upside down.
And when people ask us “How long?” we can’t answer.
But there are also stories of incredible kindness and hope. Our isolation gives us a little more time to prepare than the big cities. Families and communities are working together to look after each other, to prepare as best they can, to minimise their risks andensure that old people, people with disability and children get priority.
Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations are meeting almost every day by phone to compare notes, share resources and knowledge.
What happens in the rest of the country affects us heavily. People who can stay home, please stay home! Do it for yourselves, but do it for us too.
This virus knows no boundaries in terms of wealth, status, language or education. But for those less able to cope with its impact, it will be devastating.
People in remote communities who have the least resources to deal with this are doing their bit. Can you help?
• Sarah Brown is the chief executive of Purple House, the Aboriginal community-controlled dialysis service based in Alice Springs, which operates 18 remote clinics and a mobile dialysis unit called the Purple Truck
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