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Indigenous health worker Morgan Dempsey recognised as a 2023 Community Champion

Rhiannon Clarke -

Senior Health Worker Morgan Dempsey is among five healthcare professionals who have been recognised as '2023 Community Champions' for their exceptional efforts in HIV care.

Established three years ago, the Community Champions initiative was established by NAPWHA and Gilead to acknowledge and honour the often overlooked heroes of the Australian HIV response.

These individuals encompass healthcare professionals, support service providers, community advocates, and allies, along with the numerous family members and advocates who contribute to improving care and support, spreading awareness about HIV, and dismantling societal stigmas.

The Senior Indigenous Health Worker at Cairns Sexual Health Service, Mr Dempsey has devoted numerous years to enhancing the sexual health of First Nations individuals.

His contributions have been invaluable, particularly in implementing a groundbreaking program in Cairns. This initiative involved training young barbers to engage in conversations about sexual health and HIV with their young Indigenous male clients while providing haircuts.

Through this unique approach, Mr Dempsey has successfully encouraged these individuals to undergo testing.

His exceptional efforts have been recognised by his colleagues, leading to his nomination and subsequent recognition as a First Nations Community Champion.

Mr Dempsey's primary goal is to create an environment where individuals feel comfortable and confident enough to address their concerns regarding sexual health.

He is committed to spending as much time as necessary with his clients, ensuring they feel secure and supported enough to seek ongoing assistance.

"I think over the last couple of years I have seen our clients that have been lost [to care follow] up and now they are back accessing services," he said.

"I've had a couple where they've been in a hospital and now they're back on country living and enjoying life again... that's the sort of stuff that really hits home for me,"

Through this project, young barbers are trained to engage in conversations about sexual health and HIV with their clients, encouraging them to undergo testing.

"That's one of the big things we are trying to talk about within sexual health is normalising this conversation a bit better," said Mr Dempsey.

"At the moment it's only talked about every now and again, but we want to get in within our screenings, within our clinics.

"You've got somebody back on treatment, you got them accessing service and I think one of the things we got to really celebrate as health professionals."

The convenience of conducting these tests within the community has been crucial to the success of this project, as acknowledged by Mr Dempsey.

The 2023 Community Champions recipients are:

Senior Solicitor at the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre, Vikas Parwani - Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Communities Champion.

Clinical Nurse Consultant at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Judith Frecker - Families Champion.

Founder of Lismore Lads, Geoff Harrison - Long-term Survivors Champion.

Clinical Nurse Consultant at Lismore Sexual Health Service, Andrew Buggie - Rural and Regional Communities Champion.

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