A young man’s quest to improve Indigenous health standards

SPONSORED: Yarlalu Thomas is a 21-year-old man from Warralong, a small Indigenous community 120kms southeast of Port Hedland and 50 kilometres north of Marble Bar, in Western Australia.

Yarlalu’s father’s country is on the edge of the Western Desert in a place called Mijijimaya. A Nyangumarta man, he is named after a hill where his grandfather was born.

Yarlalu left Warralong to study at Scotch College in Perth, on a MADALAH scholarship. Upon graduating, he attended the University of Sydney on a MADALAH tertiary scholarship, where he studied a double degree in medicine and medical science.

“I decided to pursue medicine because of the disparity in health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Growing up in a remote community it was quite obvious and evident, with conditions like Type 2 diabetes, which Indigenous people are four times more likely to have the condition, which can lead to amputations. I was looking for the best way to give back to communities like mine, and I thought health was it,” he said.

In early 2019, following the completion of his undergraduate studies, Yarlalu was awarded the inaugural Roy Hill Community Foundation Fellowship in Precision Public Health. He is now working on the Pilbara Faces project, led by clinical geneticist, Dr Gareth Baynam and the Genetic Services teams at King Edward Memorial.

“The Pilbara Faces project involves using new technologies to try and solve current issues. In short, we use 3D facial imaging to try and diagnose rare genetic disorders. Of all rare genetic disorders, one-third of them have distinct facial features. This provides a non-invasive way to diagnose disorders and improves accessibility of genetic health care in rural and remote communities.”

“We’re the first group in Australia to put together a 3D facial library of Aboriginal faces, so that doctors can see what’s normal in Indigenous communities, and what is not normal, and use the technology to compare and contrast.”

Yarlalu is also a tutor and mentor back at Scotch College and will soon begin mentoring other MADALAH scholarship holders.

“I would never have been able to get to the position of studying medicine without the support of MADALAH, so I’m always happy to give back,” he said.

He also intends to re-start his medical studies next year, and to become a fully-fledged doctor in four years.

Yarlalu attended Scotch College as a MADALAH Limited scholarship holder and attended the University of Sydney with the support of a MADALAH Tertiary scholarship. MADALAH is a not-for-profit organisation that offers secondary and tertiary education scholarships for Indigenous students from remote and regional communities to West Australia’s leading schools and Australian universities.

MADALAH believe education is the key to generational change and opportunity and are committed to making a difference in the lives of participants, their families and communities. ‘Making A Difference and Looking Ahead’ is what their name stands for, and what they empower our students and participants to do.

The MADALAH Ball will be held at Crown Perth on Saturday, 3 August 2018. The Ball is coordinated to raise much-needed funds to assist in providing more educational opportunities for Indigenous students in Western Australia.

The Ball attracts more than 750 people, primarily from successful corporations who have an interest in supporting educational excellence.

Tables of ten start at $3300 ex GST. Bookings can be made at madalah.com.au

The MADALAH program is supported by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

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1 Comment on A young man’s quest to improve Indigenous health standards

  1. Having lived in the Pilbara and becoming a registered nurse whilst living there and working at the old Port Hedland Hospital from 2000 to 2010, I saw first hand the medical problems and also the social problems of the indigenous people. I worked in many areas of the hospital and also the nursing home. I worked for a few years in the dialysis unit alongside an aboriginal health worker who went on to become an Enrolled Nurse. He was an inspiration to work with. It is wonderful to see what Yarlalu is doing. The indigenous population is slowly increasing its amount of people working in health and it is encouraging to see. They are a race of people who seem to be trapped in a time-warp of traditional and modern society. Sadly a lot have become 3rd and 4th generation of a welfare society. This has caused many problems. Most are loving people who will be very welcoming when treated with respect. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people today who do not take the time to listen and learn their story. I say, “Well done Yarlalu. Keep encouraging your people to study and promote better health!”

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