Advocate Spotlight: Cath Brown

Posted 10 June, 2021
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Cath Brown, a proud Quandamooka woman from Minjerribah, works as a research assistant at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. She has spent the last ten years working on advocacy and empowerment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Her most recent work has looked at liver disease and the models of care Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are faced with, an issue that is close to home.

“It has been a steep learning curve, but it has been helpful to know more about liver disease. I had one sister with cirrhosis who passed away and an older brother who was lucky enough to receive a liver transplant,” she said.

“My sister was 36 when she passed away. It all happened quite quickly, she was diagnosed at the beginning of the year, and she passed away 11 months later. We don’t know how long she had liver damage for.”

Cath works closely with Professor Patricia Valery who is currently leading research on the epidemiology of chronic liver disease at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. Part of Cath’s research role is interviewing people with an existing liver condition about their experiences within the health system.

“Many have said if they only knew what was ahead, preventing their liver condition would have been a whole lot easier,” she said.

“One lady with liver disease found it a hard system to navigate. She wishes there was more information and that she’d known more earlier on.”

During the course of her research, Cath has found stigma around alcohol use to be a significant barrier to people getting the help they need, even if it hasn’t been a contributing factor.

“People think liver disease is always caused by alcohol. People maybe afraid to ask about liver screening because of the stigma around it,” she said.

“Even when you tell people about non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, they keep thinking it’s to do with alcohol and there’s stigma around that. It can prevent people from saying to their doctor ‘I want you to check my liver’”.

Cath’s research has also revealed that the way liver disease is handled needs to be improved at all levels of the health system and in the community.

“There are many assumptions made by health professionals that are not helpful. It can be such a big barrier for people getting help because of the judgement expected,” she said.

“Those judgements are not helpful for people who are looking for support. We need to focus more on the positives rather than what not to do. Put them in control.”

For health messaging around liver health to be effective, Cath recommends starting within the community.

“A reference or advocacy group can help to develop resources, as well as creating an environment for people to share stories,” she said.

“Those who are newly diagnosed can learn from those with more experience and also help health professionals to provide better services to the community.”

When asked how we can make liver health a priority, Cath says we need to look at other successful health Campaigns and learn for them.

“Liver health needs to be considered every day, just like it is with cardiovascular disease. There needs to be more education in the community about it, not a brochure under the counter”, she said.

“For a message to really be effective the community needs to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff in the media talking about it.”

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