Australian Health Leader Brett Dale hears melody of the Pacific
by David Gilchrist
Bett Dale hears Pacific echo song for health
A cooling afternoon breeze seems to carry with it, like a Polynesian echo song, a cry that started in a Pacific nation like Tonga, Vanuatu, or Samoa. It is a cry that comes from the sick, the vulnerable and the dying whose lot is to be born in a beautiful Pacific community limited by opportunity, struggling in isolation.
It is a cry to which Australian Medical Association Queensland (AMAQ) CEO Brett Dale is always ready to respond, despite recently facing his own family tragedies. It is a plaintive song from the Pacific that he is determined to help soothe.
Beyond his AMAQ work, Brett Dale is part of the core leadership team of Rocketship which is an international health non-profit organisation, based in Australia, dedicated to improving health in Pacific island countries through stronger primary care. All are volunteers.
Brett’s drive to bring his management and health leadership experience to support Rocketship’s invaluable work in promoting universal health care comes from a very personal perspective.
Ask Brett Dale why he cares to help and his thoughts carry him, as if on tropical trade winds, to his work in the late 1990s with an Australian Defence Force medical unit in Timor Leste.
Timor-Leste leaves lasting impression
Cradled by unforgiving mountains, the Timor-Leste that Brett Dale saw was a nation working to recover from a quarter century of Indonesian occupation. One aspect of the legacy of occupation was an impoverished, poorly educated health care system reliant on visiting medical support from countries like Australia and Cuba. Diseases like chronic malnutrition, anaemia, malaria, diarrhoea and intestinal worms had reduced life expectancy significantly.
Despite Timor-Leste’s sorrow-filled history, Brett found among the Timorese a strong willingness to build a robust future.
Eventually, Brett’s administration skills took him to work in Australia’s Northern Territory where remote Indigenous communities live in a tapestry of red ochre landscapes, sandstone escapements, open savannah, and share a sublime sense of identity and belong to the country in which they live.
Below those wide horizons, he worked with communities that suffer the scourge of illnesses like diabetes, kidney disease, and disease from drug and alcohol abuse.
Over five years from 2012, he led a number of health care initiatives for remote Indigenous communities building all the while on his understanding and experience of the importance of access to quality primary health care.
While he found success improving health support and education in remote communities in the Northern Territory, his egalitarian attitude and passion for universal health care had developed decades earlier.
Boyhood experience underpin egalitarian goal
When asked why he cares about universal health care, Brett didn’t initially point to his professional management and leadership experiences. Instead, this square-jawed man with a get-up-and-go attitude sat quiet for a moment. Then that plaintive echo song of the Pacific carried his mind to his childhood. And he explained.
“I was born into a very large family that had absolutely no money,” he said as if the memory was tangible and vivid. For him, a childhood that limited resources had hampered was key to what followed.
"I think that every person should be born with the access to necessary health care...
“I just have a passion for health equity. I think that every person should be born with access to necessary health care,” he said. The he added with his trademark candour, that universal health care is, “an entitlement to everyone, regardless of our circumstances into which we are born.”
The idea that being born in a Pacific paradise means increased vulnerability to influenza, obesity, severe dengue and more is anathema to Brett and other Rocketship core team members.
Instead, he hopes that by drawing on his management, leadership and experience across the private, public and not-for-profit health care sectors he will contribute to building programs for improved health care education, training and support for communities across Pacific countries. His hope is that ultimately those improvements, informed and driven by each community and founded on sustainable and innovative initiatives will help move Pacific communities towards universal health care. In essence, his is a hope for a sort of echo song of health care sung throughout Pacific Island communities in their own voices.
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Take a look at Medical Care Matters' post about Universal Health Coverage and the Solomon Islands.
Extra image courtesy of Getty Images