'Connecting tracks': exploring the roles of an Aboriginal women's cancer support network
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Aboriginal Australians are at higher risk of developing certain types of cancer and, once diagnosed, they have poorer outcomes than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Lower access to cancer screening programmes, deficiencies in treatment and cultural barriers contribute to poor outcomes. Additional logistical factors affecting those living in rural areas compound these barriers. Cancer support groups have positive effects on people affected by cancer; however, there is limited evidence on peer-support programmes for Aboriginal cancer patients in Australia. This paper explores the roles played by an Aboriginal women's cancer support network operating in a regional town in Western Australia. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with 24 participants including Aboriginal and mainstream healthcare service providers, and network members and clients. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. Transcripts were subjected to inductive thematic analysis.Connecting and linking people and services was perceived as the main role of the network. This role had four distinct domains: (i) facilitating access to cancer services; (ii) fostering social interaction; (iii) providing a culturally safe space; and (iv) building relationships with other agencies. Other network roles included providing emotional and practical support, delivering health education and facilitating engagement in cancer screening initiatives. Despite the network's achievements, unresolved tensions around role definition negatively impacted on the working relationship between the network and mainstream service providers, and posed a threat to the network's sustainability. Different perspectives need to be acknowledged and addressed in order to build strong, effective partnerships between service providers and Aboriginal communities. Valuing and honouring the Aboriginal approaches and expertise, and adopting an intercultural approach are suggested as necessary to the way forward.
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